A History of Violence

2005Crime Thriller ∙ 1h 36min

I’m going to make a weird comparison here. Actually, it’s not that weird; more like a little bit awkward. This movie reminds me of a poorly recorded good album. It’s like the idea and the execution was good, but some engineer twiddled this knob too far to the left and that too far to the right. The end result is a great gem that is muddled in its own sound. Of course you can see your way through the mud to the base underneath, but the whole leaves you with a dull ache and not much more. If only the production could have sparkled. If only the film could have gotten out of its own way.

It’s as if Cronenberg purposely dialed it back for fear he would actually come away with a commercially viable product. Nobody wants to be accused of selling out and making a mainstream film, but this one was aching either for a little more or a lot less. If I didn’t know this was based on a graphic novel, I would have thought the characters where a little too over the top, but with that knowledge in hand, I feel like he should have either pushed that feel a little more, or played it completely straight. What we end up with is a middling attempt at cartoonish violence mixed with graphic sex and real emotions in a story about obviously fictitious crime syndicates and baddies. It’s just weird.

The plot, in its basic sense, is pretty similar to A Long Kiss Goodnight. Could this seemingly normal family man and all-around popular do-gooder possibly be the ex-killer that some claim he is? If so, is he lying about his past, or has he just forgotten? Nobody knows, including the viewer. There actually isn’t a whole lot of surprise when his true identity is revealed, but it provides a nice second act.

Mortensen is a really low-key actor; choosing to let his face show his emotions rather than blathering on and on like a latter-day Al Pacino or Nicolas Cage. This could, of course, be intentional, or just a general lack of emotion. Either way, he does a decent job as a guy who is obviously both ice cold and caring at the same time. It is that duality that makes these kinds of stories interesting–but not particularly original. Bello, as his wife, does a great job of acting tortured, horrified and repulsed, and their couple of sex scenes are honestly pretty passionate.

The best part of the movie is actually William Hurt. In a pretty cartoonish roll as Mortensen’s gangster brother, Hurt completely steals the second half of the movie with his mumbly monotone delivery and funny squinting shtick. It’s hard to divorce William Hurt from the character, but he really shows his good timing and great screen persona. So, if you don’t mind some silly plot lines and a few scenes of blood squirting from people’s eyes, this is probably worth a rental. I can’t help but express my disappointment, though, as it could have been much, much better.