DVD Review - A History of Violence

Source: DVD Town

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A History of Violence begins with a long, continuous shot that sets the mood and tone for the rest of the film. There is a subtle manipulation that starts when two men emerge from a motel somewhere in the vastness of Middle America. The men speak in terse beats that are incensed with a subtextual malaise that resonates through the scene. When one of the men enters the motel office; there is sense that something isn't right and when the second later enters the motel, that sense is reaffirmed by the gruesome and intimate aftermath depicted. The rest of the film echoes this notion of violent pregnancy; the impending carnage and that the men deserve to die.

Before they can get their comeuppance, director David Cronenberg introduces us to Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) and his happy small town life. Norman Rockwell would be proud of the kind of gee whiz simplicity of the town in which Tom owns and runs a small diner, where he lives with his lawyer wife Edie (Maria Bello) and their two children. However, their quaint little existence is torn apart when Tom stops the two men from the beginning of the film from robbing the diner. The action is brutal, fast and sloppy but in many ways it gives the audience what they expect (want) for the two nefarious fellows.

Tom is touted as a hero and is bombarded by a media circus that makes him very uncomfortable. He's thrust into the spotlight despite trying to return to his normal, everyday existence. Soon after, Tom is confronted by mobster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), who has seen Tom on the news and believes Tom is an old enemy named Joey Cusack. To say the least, Tom's idyllic existence is compromised by the violent act of heroism in the diner.

With A History of Violence, Cronenberg has created one of his most accessible films. In a running time that is a little over 90 minutes, the film uncoils in a gleefully subversive manner towards what seems like the set up for modern take on a western/ revenge/ retribution dynamic. What we're actually given is a compelling examination of the implications of violence. The title alone works on a number of levels, acting as a thoughtful lamentation on the idea of violence and its place in American culture. However, it is also a fitting nod to Tom's character and the complex nature of his being that is unknown to his family and friends.

(Spoiler) Much like the film, Mortensen delivers a performance that is laced with subtle dissidence. Tom (or is it Joey?) is forced to examine his life in the wake of the violence he has unwillingly caused. Mortensen deftly handles the various sides to Tom in a brilliant and unflinching manner that you almost believe that Tom is really who he believes he is. (End Spoiler)

Through the course of the story, Tom and his family battle against this case of supposed mistaken identity. Bello and Ashton Holmes, who plays Tom's son Jack, effectively portray the uncertain grief and confusion that follow in the wake of Tom's heroism in the diner. As the film takes turns for the worse, so do their ideas about Tom and who this man, that they call father and husband, really is. They struggle to cope with their changing reality, almost as much as Tom does; even more so when they are forced to confront their relationships with each other and the divisive issues which surface as a result.

Video
The DVD is presented in a 1.85:1 ratio. The transfer does wonderful justice to Peter Suschitzky's cinematography. There is nothing to complain about here. Colors come out rich and bright, images are crisp and clear, black's are dark and contrast comes out as it should. All in all this is a solid transfer.

Audio
English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby stereo soundtracks are presented. The 5.1 makes great use of the set up as needed. Music comes through in all speakers but doesn't overwhelm. Sound effects come through sharply as does the dialogue, mostly pumped through the center channel. There was no noticeable distortion anywhere. New Line has presented a fine audio mix to accompany a fine video transfer.

Extras
David Cronenberg is present for a very interesting audio commentary where he discusses the various thematic elements he was seeking to explore in the film. He offers great insight into the film, the film making process, his actors and he does it all with great analytical touch.

Acts of Violence is a wonderful hour long documentary that features on-set footage and interviews with various members of the cast and crew. The doc is broken up into 8 parts that come out to be just over an hour long. The whole thing is very interesting and entertaining, offering up a wonderful look at the making of the film and the thematic elements, all from various perspectives. It's much better than your average behind the scenes doc and well worth a watch.

Violence's History is a very brief look at the film's harsher international version versus the American version which boils down to a few seconds of gore.

Too Commercial for Cannes takes the viewer to Cannes for the premiere, and offers an interesting (though much too brief) look at the film's reception. Cronenberg and his stars are on hand for the film's screening.

The Unmaking of Scene 44 is a quick look at the filming of the DVD's only deleted scene offered as an extra (appropriately titled scene 44). The scene itself is classic Cronenberg, a dream sequence involving Tom and Fogarty.

Also included are the film's trailer and a DVD-Rom Script-to-Screen feature that allows the viewer to watch the film as they read script. It's a nifty little tool, which allows a closer look at some the omitted portions of the script and how certain aspects where eventually interpreted.

Film Value
While not perfect, the film cleverly draws its audience into the graphic nature of violence and the way it subsequently affects the film's protagonists. Some people might ignore the drama developed by Tom's actions, but Cronenberg handles the drama in such a way that is very effective; it doesn't come across as melodramatic or soap opera-ish. Everyone closely connected to Tom is changed or, at the very least, forced to look the consequences of their actions. The idea that violence breeds more violence and whether or not the vengeful instinct for destruction is imbedded in human DNA is in the heart of almost every scene. The film suggests that there is always more bubbling up just underneath the surface. What Cronenberg delivers is much more than what might be expected from the film's B-movie set up. 'A History of Violence' is brilliantly crafted and is easily one of the best American films of 2005.

Last edited: 27 September 2006 22:20:15
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