A History of Violence

Director: David Cronenberg

U.S.A.| 2005. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 96 min.

Beginning with Dead Ringers (1988), or even The Fly (1986), David Cronenberg has been, film for film, the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world. Why is A History of Violence, his latest film, so great? Freely adapted from John Wagner and Vince Locke’s graphic novel (and apparently a work for hire), Cronenberg’s movie manages to have its cake and eat it—impersonating an action flick in its staccato mayhem while questioning these violent attractions every step of the way.
A pair of cartoonishly good-looking normals (Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello), living with their CGI-perfect children in a Disneyland-idyllic small town, are irrationally terrorised by a series of criminals, most impressively Ed Harris’s mutilated gangster. Tense and atmospheric, A History of Violence is a hyper-real version of an early-’50s B-movie nightmare—albeit one where the narrative delicately blurs dream and reality, the performances slyly merge acting with role-playing, the location feels like a set, and blood always splatters from lovingly contrived prosthetic injuries. A History of Violence is deeply involving, although with its Hitchcockian ‘wrong man’ theme and continual implication of the viewer, it’s as coolly distanced as its title would suggest. Cronenberg’s tone is too disconcertingly dry to be ironic and too scary to register as absurd. In a way, it’s a successful version of Michael Haneke’s audience-bashing Funny Games.

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