David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
This movie convinced me that David Cronenberg (Spider) is one of the best directors working today.
The story sounds like a late-1940's film noir classic starring somebody like Robert Mitchum: a couple of drifters try to rob a small Indiana town's diner. The diner's owner, played by Viggo Mortensen, sees potential violence erupting that threatens innocent victims. In a flash of violence that leaves his customers slack-jawed, Mortensen kills both of the drifters. He's hailed as a small town hero but the next thing he knows, a bad memory from back East (Ed Harris) visits. What unwinds is a story about whether Viggo's character is who he says he is. Or is he Someone WithA Dark Past, as the folks from Back East insist?
Cronenberg uses the movie as a meditation on American fascination with violence. But he does this in what I feel is original and truly character driven. The hero's family is affected in ways that are explored with both subtlety and viciousness. But this is not the pornography of violence we have come to expect from so many films, even though scenes of terrible bloodhsed are scattered throughout. That's not the point, Cronenberg is saying, as he focuses on the characters and how events and past crimes impact the lives they try to lead today.
William Hurt appears near the end of the film in what is arguably the stand out performance of the film and of his career. But everyone shines in this film.
Watch the documentaries and listen to Cronenber's commentary. You will learn a lot about the thinking that went into the making of this excellent adult film.