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A History of Violence

A History of Violence (2005) is that rare David Cronenberg film that doesn't involve unusual foreign objects being inserted into or withdrawn from or otherwise fused with people's bodies, and, not by accident, it's his highest grossing movie in 20 years (topped only by his excellent 1986 remake of The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum). Viggo Mortensen stars as Tom Stall, a quiet family man living a simple, near-idyllic life in a small and friendly Indiana town. With two children and a devoted wife (Maria Bello), Tom's problems are ordinary: His truck is broken down, and his introverted teenage son (Ashton Holmes) is a target for bullies. However, those conflicts pale when two marauding sociopaths visit their bloody crime spree on Tom's diner, threatening not only him but his terrified employees. In a flash, Tom skillfully (too skillfully) disarms and kills both intruders. The media hail the private and taciturn Tom as a local hero, and although he resists the attention, he can't prevent this accident of fate from dredging up secrets from his past that threaten to destroy his family until he faces them head-on. Adapted by Josh Olson from the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, A History of Violence is run-of-the-mill genre material that doesn't completely shed the shallow cartooniness of its source material (the bullying subplot is particularly phony), and yet the film is transformed into a delicately compelling thriller by Cronenberg's quiet and careful treatment. Fans of Cronenberg may enjoy watching a master of psychological creepiness tackle and redeem ordinary material, and given his spotty record over the last 15 years — with failures like eXistenZ (1999) and M. Butterfly (1993) coinciding with a decrease in output — A History of Violence does mark an improvement in product for the eccentric director, even if it doesn't distinguish itself like his unique early movies. Mortensen is terrific, and Bello plays another in a long line of gutsy and sexy women; the miscasting of William Hurt as a Philadelphia gangster, however, is a mystery better left unexplored (and his resulting Oscar nomination is enough to discredit those awards from any further serious consideration). Also with Ed Harris. New Line presents the film on DVD in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Cronenberg chats on a commentary track, and the disc also includes the 60-min. documentary "Acts of Violence," in which the filmmakers gamely try to extrapolate deeper meanings from their relatively uninspired movie. Also included are a deleted scene ("Scene 44") and a brief featurette about that scene, a quick look at the minor differences in gore between the U.S. and international versions of the movie, and a short look at Cronenberg's experience with the title at the Cannes Film Festival. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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