Directed by: David Cronenberg
Premise: A small town shop keeper (Viggo Mortensen) gains national attention when he foils two violent criminals. The fame attracts the attention of underworld figures who believe he is a former competitor.
What Works: The film is about where violence comes from and explores the tensions between nature and nurture and between impulsive action and conscious action. Mortensen is very good in his role and successfully plays the character’s multiple sides in ways that give him a rich texture. The film is almost stolen by Ed Harris, who plays a scarred gangster with a score to settle with Mortensen. The entire picture has an understated quality to it. The soundtrack does not use much music and the cinematography of the film is very restrained, capturing scenes of brutal violence without over the top flair. As a result the violence has a very real dimension and a strangely beautiful quality.
What Doesn’t: The ending is uncertain, which fits the tone of the film but audiences who are looking for a final statement on the subject of violence may feel left in the dark.
Bottom Line: A History of Violence is one of the best films of the year. It’s a film that is artistically and intellectually engaging but never loses sight of its dramatic center. This film reaches new artistic heights for director Cronenberg, whose films have often combined violence with intelligent inquiry.
Episode: #72 (October 23, 2005)