Published at: Sept. 28, 2005, 5:32 a.m. CST by headgeek
This is a great film. However, the experience I just had at this particular advance screening… well, it’s the sort of screening that makes you want to wait for DVD even if it is a film by one of your favorite filmmakers.
HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is David Cronenberg’s best film since THE FLY, but I fear most audiences are not emotionally prepared for the film. I hate that. I hate that I have to say that, but the sheer number of fucking idiots that populated this particular screening made me want to choke the life out of their high pitched juvenile giggle squeal anytime anything violent, sexual or emotionally resonate took place.
The audience was so bad, that every critic at the screening gave the Studio Rep at the screening a rather intense piece of their mind… unfortunately – most of them were focused on complaining about the “young children” at the screening, but I would like to note that not a single bit of the distracting high pitched bitchy banshee shrieks came from a little kid. Rather, it came from multiple groups of immature twits that when faced with adult situations could do nothing more than shriek as though some electric shock went through their bodies.
This is one of those times, where being at the Alamo Drafthouse would have been nice, because all you need do is identify the “assholes” in the theater and they are removed.
Having said that – Their irrational reactions didn’t dull in the slightest my appreciation for Cronenberg’s film. This is masterful storytelling. Take the opening scene, you can see David playing with us. You’ve got this man in black and this seemingly lazy punk (not as in style, but as in worthlessness) Like having him move the car, 10 feet while he checks out. Then, after about 30 seconds of seeing this jerk wad sit there, the man in black returns to a smart aleck, “What took you so long?” – we’re still one shot. Then the man in black says he had some trouble with the maid, wants to take a swig of water, but the gallon bottle they have is dry, he send the schmuck in to fill it up with the tank in the office.
Now – at this point… You KNOW something is up. Not that Cronenberg has tipped his hand, not because you heard something while the guy was driving 10 feet, not by the tone of how the actors are playing it, not by some sort of discordant hum from Howard Shore’s score. Not by the camera angle. Nothing is telling you that something bad is up, so why do you know something bad is up? It’s a David Cronenberg film, in his films, there’s always something rotten in the state of Denmark. Always.
Is there a pay off? You’ll see, I’ll say this about David, his films always give the reach around. You’ll always get the money shot, both on screen and psychologically.
Years ago, I believe 4 years ago I met Cronenberg for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival in a bar. I was with a pair of the OneRing.Net folks chatting with Peter Jackson at some swanky French Hotel’s bar – when Howard Shore and David Cronenberg walked up to join us. (Officially – this was one of the great geek moments of my life.) Now, David Cronenberg has always kinda freaked me out. He has scary cold logical eyes, and his few parts in film have convinced me that his idle hobby is the dissection of human beings while they are holding desperately to life. Most horror filmmakers that I know have kind eyes and cherubic faces. They’re always giddy and often times oddly squeamish about the most simple things. From his films, his interviews… I’ve always thought that other horror filmmakers explore the genre to explore the boogeyman and to make an audience jump. With Cronenberg, I get sincere unflinching acts of a seemingly disturbed mind. His films… MEAN IT! But when he walked up to me, he was glowing and happy and so not everything I expected of him. It was like when I met Angus Scrimm… he didn’t kill me, I was so disappointed. Heh. So when David sat down next to me, I had to ask him what scares him and he said to me… “Going to pick up my kids at school and them not being there.” First off, that’s amongst the scariest goddamn scary thoughts ever. At the same time though it instantly told me something about David. Strip away all the films, all the hypothesizing about the “New Flesh,” and he’s just a Dad. A Dad that when he goes to his kids’ school to pick them up and they’re goofing in the hallways with friends and they’re 4 minutes late coming out… That parental itch kicks in. That milk carton fear that all parents have. It isn’t funny, it isn’t a joke, it’s the scariest horror we have as a society.
It’s the fear of the Big Bad Wolf.
This is the first film that Cronenberg has made, that has that sort of fear running through it. The fear of losing family to the bad men, of losing friends to bad men. But at the same time it also explores the theme of the “new flesh” in a more subtle and psychological fashion than he’s ever delved into before.
Hands down, this is the best performance that Viggo Mortensen has given in a film yet. He is just breath-taking in the film. He plays Tom Stall, a man that becomes a victim out of the sheer refusal to be the victim. Unlike most people in a violent situation he reacts instinctually and with deadly force to kill two incredibly bad men. You gather that much from the trailer. Viggo is that soft spoken Gary Cooper type of fella in this film. He’s good natured and liked by all who know him. His kids love him and his wife… well gosh – you know, any woman that’ll dress up in her ol cheerleader costume to fuck and seduce you like a teenager – after years and years of marriage. And that looks like Maria Bello, well that’s just a home run. It’s official. Tom Stall is the luckiest man alive. He dodged death, killed two serial killers, became the hero of the town, he’s being nationally celebrated, he has two great kids, a good business and an amazing wife. Why then does he have that uncomfortable look in his eyes? It’s like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like he can’t trust his luck. He’s almost ashamed of being the hero, who can blame him? Becoming famous by killing two people in your place of business – well, this is a country that loves their violent badasses. People make movies about them. But all Tom Stall wants is to keep his little restaurant/diner running and live the quiet life with his family.
When the other shoe does drop, the work from Viggo just gets better. After the initial act of violence, Viggo is caught in two more acts of violence – in both cases – he’s forced into self-defense after being put in dire endangerment. Viggo’s acting here reminds me of vintage Harrison Ford, before… whatever happened to him. Think WITNESS or maybe even THE FUGITIVE. He’s just very very good. He’s not an actor counting the motions for a scene, but his eyes are alive, you can see fear and desperation in his face as he acts, you also see a resoluteness to do what has to be done. It’s kinda perfect. Throughout it all, he’s holding on to his family, his life and everything he holds dear. He has a perfect acting partner in Maria Bello.
Maria is one of those actresses that is just absolutely fearless as a performer. She has a role, that many actresses kinda hate playing. Many actresses do an incredibly lazy job with this role. The strong supportive concerned wife. But in her eyes – you see how much she loves Tom Stall. She absolutely adores him. You get the idea she pinches herself because of how lucky she is to have him. Now a big part of her success in this film is how the role is written and directed.
The script by Josh Olson is fantastic. It gives Viggo and Maria such a beautiful texture. That the “love scene” early in the film isn’t just a toss in the sack, but a fantasy sex scene between husband and wife. It’s so delicious. As directed, you get the idea that this is in fact the first time she’s put on her cheerleading uniform for Tom. And you get the idea that Tom hasn’t a clue what’s coming out of that bathroom. He’s actually kinda nervous. She’s frisky, but trying something new. How’s he supposed to react? When she comes out in the cheerleading uniform… You see the slightly goofy look of glee on his face. When she says in her most innocent voice, “Shhhh, my parents are in the next room.” It’s delicious. When Viggo takes off the panties and feigns shock when he looks under the pleated skirt before diving into her crotch with gusto, and Maria’s squirming into a 69 and just the furor that the dig in there… It’s just honestly clumsy and sweet. You don’t really see anything, but you can’t deny the earnest playfulness of the scene. Like most things in this film, this scene is a set up for a mirror scene later in the film that… is as ugly as this is wonderful.
In fact everything Happy in this film is a set up for a fractured mirror reflection later. Every relationship in the film changes because of violence. There are things that once done in a relationship, can never be undone. Like in Mike Nichols’ fantastic CLOSER – once love ceases to be there, after an act of betrayal, violence, dishonestness… after one sees you as something other than what they’ve always thought of you, it’s near impossible to change or bury that revelation. It can pervert something beloved into something despicable. And in this film – the entire Stall family dynamic will be set on its ear by Tom’s act of heroism and what it brings.
Now – I don’t want to talk too much about the ‘flip’ aka everything that happens after the “act of heroism” – but just point blank. Ed Harris and William Hurt are both friggin great here. Completely could see either or both of them picking up a nomination for Supporting Actor. They really are that great. I’d also throw out Maria Bello for Best Actress. Oh and Viggo for Best Actor. And this should get best screenplay and director nods. And make-up. Oh, and Best Picture. I’m not saying it deserves to win, but as of this point in the year – I’d say it definitely deserves serious consideration for all of those.
And that last shot – just so coldly telling. Not only is the film over, but the dream, the hopes, everything. It’s done. This is a stunning film by David Cronenberg that comes across as just effortless. It seems so natural and confident and easy, but it’s all so emotional and real. Cronenberg once again shows why he’s a master of horror. He uses extremely graphic results of violence not to wallow in, but to underline the ugliness of violence. He uses graphic nudity and the reaction to it as a slap. This film uses all those extremes as punctuation and realism.
This is a brilliant film. Now, having said that. I don’t recommend seeing this for free with a recruited audience. Now – you don’t have long to worry about that. Hopefully, when this opens this weekend, the audience that comes to the film having paid for it will have the respect for film that this movie commands, but if you happen to know of a time when the theater of your choice is least crowded – that’s when to see the film. This is a highly personal and intense cinematic experience. I can’t recommend enough seeing this big on the screen, just tread carefully. And like me, if some shrill gaggle of twits want to shriek like the mostly hairless baboons that they were, just dedicate a mere micron of thought in their direction… “IDIOTS” …then return to the glory that is this film. Fantastic film!