Thursday, February 15, 2007

"A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE"

Viggo Mortensen,Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Ashton Holmes

"Everyone has something to hide"

Joey Cusack



This is David Cronenberg's adaptation of a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Cronenberg is (in)famous for directing movies about deviant characters with freakish behavioral patterns. Case in point, The Fly, Dead Ringers and Crash (circa 1996). Crash was about a group of people who got off by watching people in car accidents. It remains so far the only movie I actually walked out from (I tend to endure most of them) for its objectionable nature. It wasn't so much the violent nor the sex scenes which I found offensive, it was the whole premise of the story. Therefore I was a bit hesitant to watch "A History of Violence" given Cronenberg's track record. Heck I even bought the VCD because it was selling for only P75.

Tom Stall, the main character in this film isn't deformed nor does he have any weird fetish. But let's just say he has a dark past. Nowadays though, he lives with his wife, Edie and 2 kids in relative anonymity in an obscure little town where everyone knows everybody by their first name. A model citizen so to speak who is hailed as a hero after he fended off some unsavory characters who created trouble at his little diner. Soon enough, more unsavory characters show up and insist he is Joey Cusack, the prodigal brother of a crime boss back in Pennsylvania. The rest of the film deals with how Tom tries to prevent his murky and troubled past from ruining his present peaceful existence.


The setting is mostly the basic surroundings of a small town where according to the local sheriff they take care of their own. The rather insular way of life where the locals get wary of strange men in black suits who look menacing enough to turn the whole town upside down. We are also shown the 'troubles' of his oldest son, Jack who gets bullied by some jocks but he uses witty humor to disarm them instead of resorting to fights. It seems that up to the point where Tom Stall is 'exposed' as the violent Joey Cusack, everything was ordinary bordering on the monotonous almost boring existence of the Stall family, a loving wife and well bred children.

But once the viewer is made aware of who Tom Stall really was in his former life, the film takes a U turn. Signs of a more aggressive attitude manifest itself. From the way his son finally attacks his bullies and sends them to the hospital with broken noses to the way Tom Stall practically 'rapes' his wife on the staircase. It goes to show that no matter how hard we try sometimes we are preconditioned to behave according to some pattern in our brain that never really gets out of our system.

Surely, Tom Stall was provoked to react and he just wanted to protect his family from his past catching up with him. But does this mean that unless he was provoked he wouldn't have turned violent? I don't think so. I believe that once there has been an established set of behavioral pattern ingrained in our brain whether it stemmed from childhood or early adult years, it lingers no matter how hard we try to suppress the urges.

So "A History of Violence" just proves my point. It was an interesting insight into the psyche of a man who may seem quite passive on the outside but somewhere in the back of his head his violent tendencies no matter how hard he tried to erase them never went away. Cronenberg chose to focus that premise on both Tom and his son, Jack. How they cope with the truth that both of them do have a history of violence. Jack is suddenly empowered with the knowledge that he might be a violent person too, that somehow it might be genetic. While Tom Stall fluctuates between being Tom Stall, the passive good natured husband and Joey Cusack, the aggressive former thug, he is deeply conflicted and it affects his entire disposition.

Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall did good by being subdued and his subtle way of changing into Joey Cusack was convincing enough to make us believe that he is indeed a man driven to circumstantial violence. He didn't resort to changing his facial gestures or changing the way he dressed, it just naturally evolved. Maria Bello as his wife was basically effective but I expected her to be given a more interactive role as the supportive yet at the same time fearsome wife. Ashton Holmes, although in a small role as Jack Stall was OK. William Hurt and Ed Harris as the 'bad guys' were steady and forceful not resorting to the typical caricature type of villains who smirk or gnarl to look more menacing.

Overall the film was quite subtle (yes I know I've used the word over and over) and despite the word 'violence' in its title, it was surprisingly well contained and compact enough to sustain your interest. Quite minimal in texture but with a rich storyline, well presented with a subdued tone which surprisingly is rather tame for a Cronenberg movie.

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