Steve G 🐝’s review published on Letterboxd:
I feel like A History Of Violence is two very good films that David Cronenberg failed to make into the excellent whole it should have been.
Small town American crime thrillers always feel to me like they never really have that much room for manoeuvre. They always seem cast in the same mould. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, I've enjoyed many of them. With A History Of Violence, Cronenberg does actually find a slightly new twist on things, mainly due to the way he utilises Viggo Mortensen's character and his denial of his past.
Then, by throwing out the antagonists a clear half an hour before the end, he has a job to do in making sure that the family drama is played out as well as it can be. I felt like he just about managed that although I wasn't entirely convinced by the family's reaction to Mortensen's past. Mind you, I've never confronted my family about my gangster past so when that day comes I'll be able to see if it compares favourably. My real name is Magnus Bishop.
I think that's one of the main reasons, however, why they never quite connected together for me. I was wondering if it also was because the odd bits of sub-plot didn't really work for me. The locker room and school bullying bullshit might be a start on this front. I understand the point Cronenberg's making here. As Mortensen is forced to effect a violent reaction to things going on around him rather than putting up a peaceful front, his son's plight at school mirrors that. Chip off the old block and all that.
I'm just sick of this high school bullying shit. I've seen it SO MANY TIMES in SO MANY FILMS that whenever I can see this looming on the horizon I just start rolling my eyes and hoping it just goes away really quickly. Somebody say something different about high schools in films, please, because I've had enough. There's a separation here that just stopped the film from gelling, for me.
I'm also not convinced by a couple of scenes here. I know Cronenberg loves his graphic violence but the film rather ridiculously wallows in some needlessly gruesome scenes that make it a bit more over-the-top than the narrative really allows. I also wasn't at all sure what the sex scene was all about on the stairs except that it made me shift uncomfortably and that I thought it was slightly unpleasant.
There's a hell of a lot to admire here though. I didn't think Ed Harris's chuckling one-eyed mobster was a part of that, he's better than this in almost everything else he's ever done, and I think it's perhaps for the best that we only really get an enjoyable extended cameo from William Hurt as Mortensen's brother. But Bello and Mortensen are incredibly electric together and, separately, perhaps produce the best performances of their careers.
You might not initially believe Mortensen's poker faced response to Harris's taunting but I loved the fact that Cronenberg keeps the façade up for so long that you to start to wonder if he really has got the wrong guy. Also, the end scene is incredibly powerful and leaves a lot to ponder about the elasticity of familial trust and love. I think this is a far better film when we're wondering about Mortensen but it has enough going for it elsewhere, despite its problems, to be as twisted a take on the small town crime drama as you'd expect from David Cronenberg.