17
Jan
13

A History of Violence (2005)

Ed Harris, I love you!

Ed Harris, I love you!

A History of Violence is another Cronenberg that doesn’t shout Cronenberg, and seems to seal the coffin shut on his long string of interesting, albeit gross, body horror films. Sure, his filmography is peppered with movies I think any “normal” moviegoer would be able to stomach, but usually ol’ Dave comes back with another knockout weirdo flick that makes me fear my own body.

I must admit all my griping about it isn’t fair – Cronenberg himself has never wanted to be pigeonholed into one genre or another, I guess it just sort of happened that way. Suffice it to say, I prefer a certain Cronenberg to this new one. I still think A History of Violence is a very well-done movie, it’s just not Cronenbergian! Anyway, onto the film…

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is just your average, run-of-the-mill middle-American. He’s got a wife (Edie), two kids (Sarah and Jack), and he runs a small-town diner – one of those where-everybody-knows-your-name kinda places. His relationship with his wife is so adorable and perfect (and sexy!) it almost makes you wanna puke.

Everything’s hunky dory until two desperate out-of-town criminals try to hold-up the diner. As one starts to grope a waitress, Tom’s instincts kick in: he smashes one in the face with hot coffee, grabs his gun (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, anyone?) and puts them both out of their misery. Tom is quickly labeled “local hero,” much to his dismay, and we soon find out why.

All-American alpha-male aggression in its purest, high-school form.

All-American alpha-male aggression in its purest, high-school form.

Some megalopolis-mobsters show up at his diner a few days later after seeing Tom on the news. One of the baddies, Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) is particularly unnerving, and insists he knows Tom from Philadelphia – and that Tom’s name isn’t Tom at all, but Joey Cusack.

Tom and his wife are, of course, baffled and disturbed. No matter what they do, though, the mobsters just don’t go away – they follow Edie and Sarah to the mall and continue to threaten the family ominously, until they finally show up at the family home after abducting Jack (who had just beat the shit out of his own, personal bully) and insist that “Joey” come back to Philadelphia with them.

Normally I’d dance a little bit around spoilers, but I’m not going to here – I mean, the movie’s called A History of Violence, after all. So, when Tom sees his family so blatantly threatened, Joey finally comes out and he manages to kill all the mobsters – except for Carl, who Jack takes care of with a shotgun.

Now, the whole family has witnessed Tom’s transformation into his old self – they are disgusted (rightly so) and afraid.

Like father, like son.

Like father, like son.

They try to continue on as normal, but when Tom/Joey gets a call from his brother Richie (William Hurt) he decides to end things once and for all, and he hightails it to Philadelphia.

This movie isn’t just about a good guy who used to be a bad guy. It’s about masks, masculinity, and America. Do we ever really know the people we love? Who were they before we knew them? What does it mean to be a man? Do you have to hurt other men to be drafted into that club? And what did I learn about America after watching this movie? Well, I guess you can’t live the All-American dream without a history of violence – America is a country built on violence, after all – a violence that is covered-up or downplayed in history books and is something our national consciousness is almost totally blind towards. The women and children need-not know the truth that would only hurt them, right?

I think I actually do really like this movie – it’s a little ridiculous at parts, but thinking about it with Cronenberg on the brain made it a little more interesting. Also, I can’t lie: I have a giant soft-spot for both Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, so their presence didn’t hurt either.

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