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David Cronenberg
Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris
Writing Credits:
Josh Olson

A mild-mannered man becomes a local hero through an act of violence, which sets off repercussions that will shake his family to its very core.

Box Office:
$32 million.
Opening Weekend
$364,000 on 14 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby 5.1
Supplenents Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $28.98
Release Date: 2/10/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director David Cronenberg
• “Acts of Violence” Documentary
• “Violence’s History” Featurette
• “Too Commercial for Cannes” Featurette
• “The Unmaking of Scene 44” Featurette
• Deleted Scene
• Trailer


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-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


A History Of Violence [Blu-Ray] (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August, 2021)

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, where 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 suffer from 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. 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 2005’s 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.

Even though Mortensen grew up in New York, the guy feels so middle America that I really do believe the concept that he’s never visited the east coast. 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 Disc Grades: Picture D+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

A History of Violence appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a problematic presentation.

Sharpness became compromised due to a few factors. The transfer suffered from a fair amount of digital noise reduction, which tended to rob shots of detail.

In an apparent attempt to compensate, the movie came with prominent edge haloes. All these issues meant that the film came with a weird mix of exaggerated sharpness and mushy shots.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized. Print flaws failed to become a distraction.

Colors leaned stylized, with an emphasis on greens and ambers. These seemed well-rendered within the choices made by the filmmakers.

Blacks tended to seem crushed and too dense, while shadows felt thick and overly heavy. This turned into a disappointing, overly processed presentation.

Since A History of Violence offered a quiet experience punctuated by a few brief scenes of action, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 worked along the same path. This meant 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, and 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.

How did the Blu-ray compare with the DVD version? The soundscape offered similar scope, but the lossless TrueHD mix boasted somewhat improved fidelity.

As for the visuals, the Blu-ray seemed a bit better defined and vivid. However, it came with so many issues that I can’t endorse it as an obvious step up, especially since the format’s superior capabilities make the image’s deficits more glaring.

The Blu-ray replicates the DVD’s extras, and 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, 17 seconds and includes 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 one minute, 24 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, 54-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, 47 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.

In addition to the movie’s trailer, we finish with The Unmaking of Scene 44, a seven-minute, five-second view of the deleted scene.

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.

A History of Violence may be one of those movies that impresses more on subsequent viewings. 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 Blu-ray offers good audio and some fine supplements but picture seems subpar. The movie could use a new transfer to correct this one’s flaws.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

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