Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A History Of Violence


The director extra-ordinaire David Cronenbeg's last movie A History Of Violence (2005) is a stylish thriller. A stylish thriller but with lots of negative critics. A quick surfing on different sites, talking with other people made me think: "Don't they understand anything from this movie or do I see things that others don't???" Well, I am a Cronenberg fan and trying to be objective; this is definitly "not" his best movie. After Spider I was expecting a stronger production but my disappointments are more from his cinematographical side. Beyond that, A History Of Violence is a very good movie (close enough to be perfect but not just there yet). It doesn't deserve all these negative reviews.

First thing first; this is a movie based on the comic novel by Vince Locke and John Wagner (published by DC Comics). Actually it's Cronenberg's first graphic novel adaptation and his second mainstream movie after Dead Zone (Stephen King's book). Filming comic books and comic hero's is quite popular in Hollywood these days. Sad fact: because they don't have anything original and/or interesting to produce anymore! That's why all these remakes and comic book adaptations are going on. After seeing Sin City last year (according to me the best comic book adaptation ever) and knowing David Cronenberg's style I was expecting a different film, which is true.

A short story of the movie: Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a loving family man and well-respected citizen of a small Indiana town. One day two savage criminals show up at his diner, Tom is forced to take action and thwart the robbery attempt. Suddenly heralded as a hero who took the courage to stand up to crime, people look up to Tom as a man of high moral regard. But all that media attention has the likes of mobsters showing up at his doorstep, charging that Tom is someone else they've been looking for. Is it a case of mistaken identity or does Tom have a history that no one knows about? Either way, someone's about to find out if there's a history of violence. (copy pasted from IMDB, I am too lazy to write story lines. I like to analyse them! But let me say this first: The movie is not about "the" history of violence but "a" history of violence!)

Well, this is not an average man's movie. It's basically an action movie based on hollywood cliche's but totally anti-hollywood (by the way, all movie was shot in Canada, not in US. Just in case that you wanna know). The big audience who got used to typical hollywood style action/thriller wouldn't get this movie (that's why all these negative critics I guess). I can easily say that, as thematic, it's a kind of western noir; a mixture of classical western and film noir movies. After a quietly violent opening scene by 2 savages, we are introduced to American dream; an average American family (a loving father, an example -working- mom and partner, a teenager son and a barbie pop daughter), lives in a small quite town with good citizens. It's presented so grotesque and disturbingly fake. Besides that, Cronenberg gently destroys the typical hero-archetype through the movie by showing us the character shift in our main hero. We observe all these changes in his life and his surroundings as Cronenberg slowly cuts up every character with his razor. At this point he plays on a deadly ground by destroying typical hollywood cliche's (Viggo Mortensen's anti-hero role is based on more emotional turbulences than dialogues and he is quite impressive as Tom Stall. Also Ed Harris' play is marvellous) And a ridicilously absurd mafia story at the end is totally out of context (I assume this is the only bad side of the film. There is an huge style change at the end. Until that point Cronenberg is quite dominant through the movie but at the end it looks like he lost himself behind the comic novel which movie was based on).
Cronenberg was quite conscious about the main story's mythological western style characteristics. But it wasn't his aim to make a western/action movie. He likes to build up, piece by piece, a complex story from a simple theme. In the hands of a genius master like Sam Peckinpah (r.i.p.) this would be a wonderful action movie but in the twisted mind of Cronenberg we sail in the different seas. He is very much obssessed about metamorphoses, transformations, shifting identities, multiple realities and dark areas of human mind like sex and violence. The lost/left identity theme of the story is what he concerns about. Actually all movie is more about a person's search of his own identity then violence itself. Unfortunately he doesn't examine this as he did in Crash, M. Butterfly, Spider or Dead Ringers but still A History Of Violence shows the signs of the maestro. One of the most interesting part of the movie is the brutal sex -almost a rape- scene between Tom Stall and his wife on the stairways. This is quite absurd and meaningless for many viewer but actually it's quite important. As Cronenberg believes and shows us, violence is a part of sex as much as sex is a part of violence. The alienation and seperation between the two characters in that scene is one of the turning points of the movie.

But my biggest disappointment was the lack of that famous body-mechanic relation in Cronenberg's movies. He could almost abuse this theme in A History Of Violence but he didn't even touch it. In some scenes the relation between the characters and their guns and rifles tries to fill this function but it's so weak you don't even feel it. My only thought that maybe he didn''t want to repeat himself. But I can live with that.

By the way, I have to add one important point that's not mentioned by many people, than I'll shut up:

Cronenberg was never a director with political messages or polemics but as he said in his interviews, he had absolutly no problem if A History Of Violence was seen as an allegory to American invasion on Iraq. He mentioned that American government's foreign affairs and international politics under the Bush regime was a realization of the western mythology by the motto of "Our home is brutally attacked by savages. That gives us the right to attack to these aggressors and justifies our aggression". In A History Of Violence, Tom Stall agressively protects his home against the savages from 'east'!..

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