A History of Violence ★★★★½

“Jesus, Joey.”
-Richie Cusack (William Hurt)

I picked this one up pre-owned from Blockbuster today, ‘cause it was cheap. I think it’s fair to say the disc has seen a history of violence itself. But alas, it worked, so I can’t really complain.
In fact, I’m glad I finally got round to watching this, as it is easily one of director David Cronenberg’s most accessible, yet also superior, works.

Cronenberg ventures into foreign territory with ‘A History’ that, in regards to the plot, plays out like a typical gangster film. It’s a world away from the peculiar and often surreal films he produced across his earlier career, such as Naked Lunch (1991), Crash (1996) or eXistenZ (1999), yet it still possesses that distinctive, odd ambiance inherent in all of his films.

But the simplicity ends with the plot, because this is not a straightforward film. It’s a film of undercurrents, where nothing is as it first appears, where the ordinary and unassuming is revealed to possess a festering malevolence just beneath the surface. It’s a sophisticated and nuanced work of genius that demands that the audience interacts and engages with its characters.

The cast deliver breath-taking performances, and each is perfect in their respective roles. Viggo Mortensen is incredibly believable as the humble everyman Tom Stall. He reminds me very much of Liam Neeson, in that he seems gentle and composed, but one can believe there is a raging inferno of ferocity and wrath just waiting to erupt. He is restrained and minimalistic in his delivery of the character, which makes it intensely realistic. Maria Bello and Ashton Holmes also do good jobs as Tom’s wife Edie, and son Jack.

The supporting cast really steal the show too, with an absolutely fantastic performance from Mortensen’s regular co-star, Ed Harris, as disfigured mobster Carl Fogarty. William Hurt is great as Philly crime lord, Richie Cusack, whilst a small appearance by Stephen McHattie as small-time crook Leland completes the wonderful cast.

The film is complemented by some visually stunning cinematography by director of photography Peter Suschitzky, truly excellent set design and a brilliant script. The musical score by Howard Shore is phenomenal. Every scene is accompanied by a fitting soundtrack, from the idyllic, small town score in the beginning, which is of a very similar vein to Badalamenti’s for Twin Peaks, to the atmospheric, intense music in the latter stages of the film. In its entirety, the film feels complete; everything seems perfectly harmonised and fitting. The story is violent, the characters are violent, hell, even the sex is violent. Violence permeates every inch of this truly beautiful film.

VERDICT; Not only one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films, but also one of his most accomplished. It’s very rare for almost every factor of a film to be synchronised, yet A History of Violence achieves it. It feels suitably surreal and odd as only a Cronenberg work can be, yet also feels majestically complete. It is, in many ways, the cinematic equivalent of Salvador Dali’s artwork. A dream-like, character driven masterpiece.
4.5/5 or 9/10

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