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David Cronenberg
Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Sumela Kay, Kyle Schmid
Writing Credits:
John Wagner (graphic novel), Vince Locke (graphic novel), Josh Olson

Everyone has something to hide.

Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, A History of Violence is the tale of Tom Stall. Tom is a loving family man and well-respected citizen of a small Indiana town. But when two savage criminals show up at his diner, Tom is forced to take action and thwart the robbery attempt. Suddenly heralded as a hero who took the courage to stand up to crime, people look up to Tom as a man of high moral regard. But all that media attention has the likes of mobsters showing up at his doorstep, charging that Tom is someone else they've been looking for. Is it a case of mistaken identity or does Tom have a history that no one knows about? Either way, someone's about to find out if there's a history of violence.

Box Office:
$32 million.
Opening Weekend
$515.992 thousand on 14 screens.
Domestic Gross
$31.493 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $28.98
Release Date: 3/14/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director David Cronenberg
• “Acts of Violence” Documentary
• “Violence’s History: US Version Vs. International Version” Featurette
• “Too Commercial for Cannes” Featurette
• “The Unmaking of Scene 44” Featurette
• Deleted Scene
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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A History Of Violence: New Line Platinum Series (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 8, 2006)

Though its title makes it sound like a documentary, A History of Violence is nothing of the sort. The film starts with the aftermath of criminal activity at a motel. Leland Jones (Stephen McHattie) and William Orser (Greg Bryk) amble out after they kill a number of people there.

The movie then cuts to introduce us to the Stall family. Father Tom (Viggo Mortensen) runs a small-town diner, and he lives with wife Edie (Maria Bello), teen son Jack (Ashton Holmes) and young daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes). Jack and Sarah have a mix of fears, both logical and illogical. Sarah has some nightmares about monsters, while non-athletic Jack dislikes gym class and gets bullied by Bobby Jordan (Kyle Schmid).

Despite those minor concerns, all seems to be pretty well in their lives. That changes when Jones and Orser try to rob Tom’s diner. They try to make things turn violent, but Tom thwarts the crime and takes care of the crooks. This makes him into a minor hero.

Tom wants to get on with his life, but matters conspire to make that impossible. Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his goons roll into the diner and insist that Tom’s really some guy named Joey Cusack from Philadelphia. When Sheriff Sam Carney (Peter MacNeill) intervenes, we learn that Fogarty and his guys are part of organized crime back east.

The plot complicates from there. Fogarty harasses Tom to come back to Philly with him and straighten out matters, but Tom resists. Events get darker and more violent as we learn the truth about Tom’s past.

Before I saw Violence, I’d heard comments that compared it to Crash. I do see some similarities, primarily in the ways both address the darkness that resides inside all of us. However, if you expect other elements to match up, you’ll not find them, as they offer decidedly different experiences.

Crash took the more optimistic viewpoint as it made its plea for racial harmony. Violence, on the other hand, takes a darker stance. It implies that we’re all nasty critters deep down and that no matter how hard we try, our true nature will come out in the end.

That’s an interesting theme and a worthy one for a film. Unfortunately, this never elevates Violence into a particularly interesting piece. The story certainly doesn’t stand out as special. We’ve seen plenty of tales that feature former baddies who try to fix their lives. It’s the whole “just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in” thing, so don’t expect many surprises from the plot.

I think Violence hints at substance more than it digs into matters. Perhaps I should see the subtlety as a good thing, since the movie doesn’t beat us over the head with its ideas. However, it comes across as so subdued so much of the time that it threatens to lose us. The film uses the occasional example of graphic violence to provoke a reaction, but it doesn’t do much else to maintain our attention.

Or maybe I couldn’t get into Violence because I thought Mortensen was miscast. Could I accept him as the quiet, small-town guy? Yup – he’s got a very laid-back, Midwestern vibe. Could I buy him as an efficient killer? Definitely – he worked just fine as an action hero in the Lord of the Rings movies, so he maintains that aura here.

Could I swallow the thought of Mortensen as a former Philly mobster? Not for a second. The guy’s so middle America that I really do believe the concept that he’s never visited the east coast. Ironically, Mortensen was born in Manhattan, but he sure doesn’t show it. He doesn’t have a hard edge about him, as he seems like he popped straight out of the Central Time Zone.

Maybe A History of Violence would pay off better on a second viewing. I suppose my expectations for another Crash affected my interpretation, and another screening might allow me to better appreciate the nuances of the flick’s stories and characters. Right now, however, I have to see this as a lackluster movie that posits some intriguing themes but fails to make them fly.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

A History of Violence appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not too many issues cropped up in this generally fine transfer.

My only complains related to shadows. Low-light shots tended to seem a bit murky and muddy. I thought some of this was intentional, but I still found the dark scenes to come across as too thick. Blacks were deep and full, however, and the movie's mostly naturalistic palette looked solid. The flick featured the subdued end of that spectrum but made sure the colors were clear and smooth.

Sharpness appeared excellent. At all times I thought the movie was crisp and well-delineated, and I noticed no signs of softness. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and edge enhancement appeared absent. As for source flaws, I noticed a speck or two at most. Overall, the movie looked very good.

Since A History of Violence offered a quiet experienced punctuated by a few brief scenes of action, the Dolby Digital 5.1 worked along the same path. The soundfield usually stayed fairly restricted. Music showed good stereo presence and I heard decent environmental material as well. For the most part, there wasn’t much to make the mix lively.

That changed during the smattering of violent scenes, though. Those managed to open up the spectrum well as they created quick but involving pieces. The surrounds came into action during those sequences and helped make this a more interesting mix.

Audio quality was always satisfying. Speech seemed natural and concise, with no edginess or other problems. Music sounded bright and full, while effects were concise and accurate. Bass response appeared appropriately warm and deep. Though this wasn’t a standout track, it lived up to expectations.

When we move to the set’s extras, we start with an audio commentary with director David Cronenberg. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. Cronenberg discusses story, themes, and interpretation, characters and performances, sets and locations, cinematography and the movie’s visual style, deleted segments, and a few production topics.

Cronenberg offers an unusual introspective and rich look at his film. He really digs into the movie’s meaning and what it tries to say. This adds texture to the material and makes this a useful and informative view of the movie.

Next we get a documentary entitled Acts of Violence. It runs one hour, six minutes, 13 seconds and includes the usual allotment of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We find notes from Cronenberg, screenwriter Josh Olson, director of photography Peter Suschitzky, makeup supervisor Stephan Dupuis, producer Chris Bender, assistant set decorator Danielle Fleury, editor Ron Sanders, first assistant director Walter Gasparovic, on set dresser Greg Pelchat, composer Howard Shore, key hair dresser Mary-Lou Green-Benvenuti, SPFX supervisor Neil Trifunovich, costume designer Denise Cronenberg, production designer Carol Spier, dialogue coach John Nelles, gun wrangler “Frenchie” Berger, and actors Viggo Mortensen, Greg Bryk, Stephen McHattie, Ashton Holmes, Ed Harris, Maria Bello, and William Hurt.

The show covers Cronenberg’s approach on the set, casting, characters and the actors, sets and visual design, stunts and effects, the movie’s depiction of violence, Cronenberg’s crew and his history with them, makeup and costumes, and script issues. As with the commentary, “Acts” presents an unusually intelligent look at the film. We get many fine notes about the actors’ work and Cronenberg’s choices, and we also find plenty of the usual nuts and bolts material. The shots from the set are particularly interesting, as it’s fun to see them work on the shots. This is a strong documentary.

Violence’s History: US Version Vs. International Version goes for 83 seconds. Cronenberg details the minor changes made to keep an “R” from the MPAA. We see the European shots and get comparisons in this helpful clip.

The eight-minute and 52-second Too Commercial for Cannes follows Cronenberg as he wanders through different duties at the famous film festival. We see various aspects of that experience in this short piece. It’s a moderately interestingly little program.

One deleted scene appears. Called “Scene 44”, it runs two minutes, 46 seconds. Most of that focuses on a dream sequence. It’s not anything stellar, but it’s interesting to see. We can watch the scene with or without commentary from Cronenberg. He provides some background and lets us know why he cut it.

A look at that segment, The Unmaking of Scene 44 goes for seven minutes, four seconds. It provides remarks from Cronenberg, Harris, Bender, Trifunovich, and Dupuis. They provide some information about filming the deleted segment and give us another nice look behind the scenes.

The DVD opens with ads for Take the Lead, 11:14, Havoc and Domino These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area with a clip for Puerta Vallarta Squeeze. We get the theatrical trailer for Violence too.

A History of Violence may be one of those movies that impresses more on subsequent viewings. For my first screening, I thought the film had interesting moments but failed to coalesce into anything memorable. Although I reserve the right to change my mind, that’s how I feel at first blush. The DVD offers very solid picture and audio plus some fine extras like an insightful audio commentary and a detailed documentary. There’s enough quality work here to merit my recommendation of at least a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3225 Stars Number of Votes: 31
4 3:
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