Moving away from terrifyingly impressive special effects, director David Cronenberg has since set his sight on becoming a director of gory thriller films, the likes of which are seen around every corner. It’s lucky, then, that the talent of Cronenberg as a director is more than enough to carry us through his more lacking projects. It worked for Scanners, and it most certainly works for A History of Violence, starring Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris and Maria Bello.
Following Tom Stall (Mortensen), a regular diner owner who finds himself a local hero after stopping a robbery at his store, A History of Violence attempts to show us that there is more than meets the eye. Beneath the surface there is always something dangerous lurking, even from those who we trust and care for most. I never thought Cronenberg could bring us subtlety in his films, not after watching Scanners, a film where a few hundred people can make the brains of those around them spontaneously combust. Nor was I expecting it after the surrealist expressionism scattered throughout Naked Lunch.
Maybe it’s the shift in tone that provides us with more of a thriller than a wildly explorative Cronenberg piece. He feels more reigned in here, not aiming for the incredible visuals of his 80s and 90s horror pieces; instead he focuses in on the horrors that lie in relationships and family. Dark pasts, sordid secrets and everything in between comes into play one Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) shows up. Fogarty is a misfire of a character saved by the charms of an incredible actor. Harris manages to produce us a minor antagonist, a shifty individual lurking in the shadows around Tom Stall. Their encounters aren’t the best planned out, but Cronenberg manages to ooze some enthusiasm out of their brief interludes together.
What may be the biggest problem for A History of Violence is a completely forgettable second act that sees us jump into the deep end of ramped up family drama films. It’s such a shock to the system that Cronenberg is the one behind the camera the whole way through that it springs new life into the genre’s tired clichés, even going as far as to make them feel a lot more enjoyable. The typical family unit falls apart, reaching new equilibriums under that Todorov Narrative every drama film from the 2000s seems to love.
A History of Violence benefits greatly from some original direction from Cronenberg, where we get the chance to see a completely new side to him. On the other hand, we’ve got a great leading man in the form of Viggo Mortensen leading the charge of an impressively verbose cast of characters. But that’s all that stands in the way of A History of Violence falling into obscurity. Certainly underwhelming, but oddly more enjoyable than Scanners; maybe the biggest benefit here is that the narrative is actually of interest. Whatever the case A History of Violence will be a real delight for those looking for a different style of Cronenberg, but with much the same philosophies hidden within the seams.