A History of Violence

by

I hate backseat drivers. And part of that hatred derives from a certain amount of self-loathing at the recognition that I am a backseat driver too.

Which is why I often hesitate to get too riled up when I see a bad movie. Sure, the wasted ticket price would be reason enough to be pissed off, but I try my best to put myself in the director/producer/actor’s shoes before really letting loose on a movie that didn’t live up to expectations.

So I’m not really that upset about seeing A History of Violence this past Saturday evening. I hadn’t really followed any reviews, though I did have a general impression that the movie had collected fairly positive notices. IMDB has it at a 7.6/10, and Rotten Tomatoes has a freshness rating of 86%. These results seem almost as implausible as the film’s storyline.

Knowing what I know about David Cronenberg, I shouldn’t have been too surprised at how AHOV turned out. What surprises me is to find Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, and William Hurt (not so much Maria Bello) languishing in this rather run-of-the-mill vehicle. I loved Harris in The Abyss and The Right Stuff, and I’ve really liked Hurt in most everything I’ve ever seen him in, but they seem wasted here. Viggo’s still riding the LOTR wave, and this film suggests maybe he’s not as versatile an actor as some may have anticipated. I’d hate to see him typecast as that righteous man with the iron fist. I wonder, without their participation, would Viggo have been able to sustain this film on his own? Harris and Hurt have pretty pithy scenes, but neither of them are onscreen for the whole flick. They were almost more of a distraction than anything else.

Finally, the story was a bit lame. From here in the back seat, I would’ve much rather seen a movie where it’s known from the start that Stall is a reformed Philly hit man. The story would center on Stall’s relationship with his gay son and his efforts to lead his progeny away from the destructive path he’s following at school, where the slightly psychotic jock and his pals relentlessy pester and assault young Stall, pushing him ever closer to the breaking point. It would be more Karate Kid and a lot less Natural Born Killers, and your audience would change as a result, but it’d be a hell of a lot more interesting than the present effort.

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