A History of Violence (2005)
By: Julian on June 16, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Roadshow Entertainment (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1:85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Dolby, English DD 5.1. English subtitles. 91 minutes
The Movie
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris
Screenplay: Josh Olson
Country: USA
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David Cronenberg's claims to fame are his seventies and eighties 'venereal horror' pictures – grotesque tales about the physical dysfunction of the human body, with the films' zenith being at the gloriously deranged set pieces. After a few telling departures from the horror genre (M. Butterfly, Spider), the director helmed A History of Violence – the truly killer adaptation of John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel of the same name.

A History of Violence stars Viggo Mortensen in a commendable attempt to eliminate typecasting after his three-fold turn as Aragorn in Jackson's Lord of the Rings epics. Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a coffee shop proprietor in the sleepy town of Millbrook. Tom's a family man and all-round nice guy, a doting father to his teenage kid Jack and young daughter Sarah and a loving husband to Edie (Maria Bello). However after a pair of violent armed robbers attempt to hold the store up, Tom goes Rambo, killing both. The event is front-page national news and lends Tom a bit of 'hero' status.

Before long, though, the attention gives Tom a new foe to contend with, incarnate in a pair of mysterious men who have come to visit him secrets that may be from his past. The men, led by the scarred Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), are Philadelphian mobsters convinced that Tom is in fact Joey Cusack, a dissenting member of their crew.

To give away much more of the intricate plot, jam-packed into the tight 91 minute running time, would be ludicrous. A History of Violence is a bundle of surprises and, for those who have read the graphic novel, Josh Olsen's Oscar-nominated adaptation certainly changes a few things around. To see Cronenberg helm such an audacious picture is a relief – this reviewer can't profess to be too much of a fan of his horror work, despite their obvious qualification as classic genre films. A History of Violence really is spectacularly directed, and it's far from a Scorsese or Coppola Mob film – the gangster element could best be described as clinical, detached from the rigid ritual and custom of the Italo goodfellas (avoiding the Italian element of such films and the graphic novel itself was intentional, Cronenberg later explained, to 'avoid The Sopranos syndrome'). The violence, infrequent but jarring, is presented in equally bleak fashion, perfectly capturing the hollowness of the morally contemptible characters we're dealing with. Much has been made of the picture's two sex scenes – the first a tender example of fetish ala repressed suburbia and the second rough and borderline-assault. It's certainly an intriguing narrative device and an interesting way to depict a slow descent into madness.

The acting is all top shelf stuff – Mortensen's unveiling is subtle and sublime, his performance here showing the thesp's sheer versatility. William Hurt, by contrast, operates in a sort of controlled mania for his turn as Richie Cusack, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination despite being on screen for all of ten minutes. But it's Cronenberg, directing a film of this ilk, who's the real revelation here. At risk of denigrating his horror oeuvre, there's no denying that A History of Violence is of a better quality than any of his past work. Highly recommended. 
The picture is presented in 1:85:1 with 16:9 enhancement. Polish cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, who worked with Cronenberg on all of his features since Dead Ringers, takes DOP duties here, lending A History of Violence its polished aesthetic. 
Two English audio tracks – Dolby 2.0, and Dolby Digital 5.1. Both are clear and crisp. Composer Howard Shore is on great form here and his broody, melancholic score fits well.
Extra Features
Roadshow have put together an excellent package. There's a feature commentary with Cronenberg that provides some welcome insight into the film, from its beginnings as a comic to the big screen.

A few making-of docos, the longest of these running 66 minutes and titled Acts of Violence. Two other featurettes, The Unmasking of Scene 44 and Too Commercial For Cannes, run six and nine minutes respectively. There's also a very good, albeit incredibly short (one minute), featurette that compares the international version to the US version of the film, which contains digitally censored violence (for the censorship conscious, this R4 version is the international cut).

A deleted scene with Cronenberg's commentary, a theatrical trailer and three Easter Eggs fill out the remainder of the disc. An excellent set.
The Verdict
One of the punchiest commercial outings we've received these past few years, A History of Violence may not be quintessential Cronenberg, but it certainly shows the director working at the very top of his game. This R4 disc is on par with the R1, and it can be found for cheap. Buy with confidence. 
Movie Score
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Overall Score

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