Tonight I saw David Cronenberg’s film History of Violence . This is based on the ultra-violent graphic book (‘comic’), with the same title, written by John Wagner and illustrated by Vince Locke.
The central character, Tom Stall, portrayed by Viggio Mortensen , is a laid-back, kindly father with an electric-charged capacity to kill that lies well-hidden until needed. Tom is a psychopathic, ex-killer who changes his identity to become the loving all-American dad. Through a chance event he is forced to reveal his past identity to associates from his troubled past and then to his family. The family, initially uncomfortable with this past, come to accept it in a touching closing scene. By this time he has essentially ‘killed off’ his past.
The movie has something of the structure of an old-fashioned Western and a ‘comic book’ feel to it. Although it is very different and much less stylised, it reminded me of Sin City. Mortensen is the all-American hero (quiet, resilient, a man of action), Maria Bella is his devoted wife and mob members William Hurt (his brother) and Ed Harris comprise his menacing past.
The movie has been subject to extensive and very mixed reviews – some are here. A good factual account of the plot and its relation to the book is in a Wikipedia entry here. (Generally, it interests me that so much useful information about quality current movies can now be found in Wikipedia).
History of Violence is a mainstream movie with sex (both violent and playful) and lots of killing that is not gratuitous but is intended to make you think. I was uncertain how I would react to the movie given Cronenberg’s reputation for violence but did enjoy it. I thought Mortensen particularly good As Tom but the casting is generally good and under strong direction by Cronenberg. This movie will probably make mega-bucks given the global (not only American) preference for violent movies but it is not an exploitation movie based on graphic violence.
Update: The New Republic Online review of this movie (here), by Christopher Orr, argues that Cronenberg lets the ‘cat out of the bag’ too early by revealling Tom’s true identity at the halfway point. From that point the ‘suspense leaks’. Maybe – he could never have revealled his identity and still ‘cleaned up’ his past.