Ticking Timebomb

Source: Willamette Week

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There are two types of Viggo Mortensen fans. There are those who "discovered" the actor when director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy made him the embodiment of heroism in the form of Aragorn. And then there are those who first noticed Mortensen over a decade ago, when supporting roles in films like Boiling Point, Carlito's Way and The Reflecting Skin established him as a steely character actor. Back in those days, Mortensen had a simmering intensity that, if you paid close attention, let you know he was the stuff leading men were made of.

It is this second type of Mortensen fan - those who remember him from Sean Penn's The Indian Runner - who will get the most out of A History of Violence. Adapted from the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, Mortensen stars as Tom Stall, an unassuming family man who owns and operates a diner in Smalltown, U.S.A. When a pair of sadistic killers pass through town, they stop at Tom's diner, planning to rob the place and kill everyone inside. But before they can act, the mild-mannered Tom leaps into action, killing both thugs, and giving the restaurant owner his 15 minutes in the spotlight. But with all the media coverage also comes the attention of Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), a Philadelphia mobster who claims Tom Stall is really former gangster Joey Cusack. Fogarty wants revenge for past wrongdoings, which will drag Tom - regardless of whether or not he's Joey - deeper into a world of violence.

Directed by David Cronenberg, A History of Violence is a decent, although at times uneven film. The original source material itself is not the most groundbreaking of sequential-art narratives, and Josh Olson's screenplay, while streamlining the story, does not improve on Wagner's tired dialogue. And for a director like Cronenberg, whose filmography includes Videodrome and The Fly, A History of Violence does not find the filmmaker at the top of his game. At times it feels like he is trying to tap into his inner Sam Peckinpah, a futile task for any director.

Where this film shines brightest-aside from Mortensen's performance-is in the moments of violence. Throughout the narrative, Tom Stall's furious explosions are the exclamation points that become more important than the preceding sentences. And while the murderous outbursts are effective, such violence should never be the main course of any film, but rather the spice.

For all of its flaws, A History of Violence makes real the promise of Viggo Mortensen in a way Lord of the Rings did not. This is the sort of role Mortensen would have grown into on his own - it was just that LOTR ensured the actor would be given the opportunity to play such parts.
Last edited: 22 July 2009 14:47:30
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