Movie Poster
A History of Violence
David Cronenberg
Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holme
96 min.


"I've been burned by David Cronenberg before," says a friend of a friend. Of course they were talking about Crash, but the sentiment rings true. Cronenberg made some exciting B-grade genre-pictures in his early days: Scanners is amusing and has Patrick McGoohan and Videodrome is thoroughly entertaining. He also made some unforgiveably boring movies in more recent years: eXistenZ has few redeeming virtues, Naked Lunch was way less interesting than it had any right to be, and of course no one in the world liked Crash except for James Spader. His last movie, Spider, was good, but sent critics into an unfortunate bout of hyperbole.

A History of Violence is a step up from Spider. It posesses all that was good about its predecessor, but paces it at a less lethargic clip. And it is funny. And it has a healthy serving of gore. The ending is the closest Violence comes to greatness, although structurally it seems half lifted from the Long Good Friday.

The plot is largely inconsequential, as it always is with Cronenberg, although he usually seems to think otherwise. The events unfold with the careful precision of a serial killer or a dentist. But it is the unfolding, rather than the events, which interests us. For everything unfolds in this world, the characters and setting, too.

In the end, it is remarkable, though not revolutionary or a work of genius or anything of the like, for a major Hollywood release, no matter who the director, to offer no forgiveness to its hero, to itself or to its audience. Many critics, and maybe David Cronenberg as well, seem to have the mistaken notion that A History of Violence is subversive because it infuses an action blockbuster with an intellect, but really it is worthwhile because it doesn't let its purpose bog down its action.

Pat Jackson