Friday, November 25, 2005

A History of Violence (Cronenberg, 2005)

There is a compelling mystery at the heart of David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, but it has nothing to do with the identity of Tom Stall or the motivations of the menacing one-eyed gangster that drops by his diner one day looking for payback. No, the true mystery is how anybody could possibly take this ridiculous film seriously. Things do not bode well from the get-go, as the film’s first scene climaxes in a cute little girl being gunned down in cold blood for no better reason than a short-cut to character development. It wasn’t so much that Cronenberg decided to include this as a part of his film that bothered me, but rather that the scene plays out like an arrogant challenge to the audience. This film’s going to be hardcore, OK? Can you take it? This sets the tone for a parade of scenes that completely misfire because they are constructed seemingly in the opposite direction of logic. Why does a school bully flip out after a softball game simply because someone caught his routine fly ball? Why is Tom’s son calmly eating his breakfast and his daughter simply wandering around the house while Mom guards the front door with a shotgun? Why does Mom later make no effort to intervene or alert authorities after it is clear her husband’s life is being threatened at gunpoint? I could go on and on, but these contrivances would matter much less if A History of Violence had any sort of thematic heft. It does not. Cronenberg seems to think that by depicting graphic violence, he is making some sort of commentary on violence. Cyclical patterns of violence and the way they are ingrained into American society are, after all, a worthy topic of discussion. However, the truth is that unfortunately this film has absolutely nothing of interest to say on the subject and ultimately come across as thick moviemaking bullshit masquerading as socially conscious art. Unlike the films of Michael Haneke, for example, which repulse us with cruelty and unspeakable acts of inhumanity, the violence in Cronenberg’s film is there as a pay-off, making him no different than those exploitative directors he supposedly seeks to critique. At my screening of the film, audience members groaned at the eye-rolling plot developments and openly laughed as the final credits began to roll. I shared their sense of derision. Tiresome, pointless and ultimately insubstantial, A History of Violence is a truly bad film that has somehow managed to receive critical acclaim.



Anonymous guile said...

dang, mr mortensen is mesmerizing in a history of violence..

12:29 AM  
Blogger Nikolus Ziegler said...

Thank goodness someone else wasn't suckered into thinking this is some kind of brilliant examination of violence, in the media or otherwise. Cronenberg is better than this, I don't know what happened to him.

10:14 AM  

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