By Kyle Francis
People expect trailers to be misleading – after all, they’re designed to get you into the theatre. This is probably why the preview for David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence was made to look like an intelligent thriller about a small town man with a dark past and a knack for murder. What it wasn’t made to look like was a misogynistic, pornographic version of Mystic River. If this is what audiences were led to believe no one would go to see it. Well, props go to the marketing team, the bastards.
A History of Violence tells the tale of Tom Stall, a simple man in a simple town and his storybook-esque family. Tom owns a diner, everyone in town likes him and his wife is a freak in the sack. Needless to say, Tom’s got it pretty good. After some painfully long exposition informing the viewer–over and over–of just how wholesome Tom’s town is, a couple bad guys show up and try to rob Tom’s diner. Like any self-respecting small businessman, Tom wastes no time in brutally killing them both. The publicity he gains as the new “small-town hero” attracts some bad men from his past, and people start wondering if Tom really is who he says.
A History of Violence’s most glaring problem stems from its utter lack of subtlety. Despite the excessively long dramatic sequences, all the characters manage to tell one another exactly what’s going on, or express what they’re feeling with surgical specificity. While the film goes to enormous lengths to establish how nice and good all its principle characters are, Tom’s wife Edie (Maria Bello) takes her pants off a lot, and often finds herself in degrading, incredibly long sex scenes, including one coming dangerously close to rape. The over-the-top, ultra-gory fight sequences would be cool in an action movie, but Cronenberg doesn’t understand vicious throat-stomping has no place in a movie so badly wanting to be a heartfelt drama. The overall gratuity of the entire movie is obviously meant to be shocking, but it comes off as exploitative.
Like any good Hollywood drama, A History of Violence manages to have a not-so-deep message thinly veiled behind the story. While Cronenberg may as well have written “violence is bad” on a mallet and bashed the audience in the face with it, the stomach-turning action scenes and abhorrent treatment of female characters makes the movie miss its own point entirely. By the end of the film it’s understood violence is being condemned, yet the protagonist has used violence to solve every problem presented to him.
With a full script rewrite and a director who understands what editing is, A History of Violence could have been a good movie. As it is, it’s just an unintentionally ridiculous movie bordering on offensive. Its only redeeming quality is Viggo Mortensen viciously beating on thugs every half-hour or so.
Go see The Transporter 2, at least it knows it’s stupid.