Plot: What’s it about?
David Cronenberg’s films are all over the map. From the likes of “Videodrome” to “The Fly”, it’s hard to really characterize the man and his movies. With “The History of Violence”, based on a graphic novel, Cronenberg digs deep into his bag of tricks and has produced a very enjoyable and controversial movie. His films vary from science-fiction to just plain…weird. Take, for instance, “The Dead Zone” in which Christopher Walken plays a man who can see into the future just by touching people. “Scanners” in which people have the power to read minds and, in certain cases, make heads explode. And let us not forget the great (and very odd) “eXistenZ” starring a then fairly unknown Jude Law. While “A History of Violence” doesn’t really have any supernatural element to it, it does provoke thought and shows that there’s more than meets the eye.
Viggo Mortensen stars as Tom Stall, owner of a local diner in a small Indiana town. Tom’s wife (Maria Bello) and children are all right out of a Norman Rockwell painting and he seems content with the life he’s chosen. Things change when two criminals come into town and try to rob Tom’s diner. He manages to turn the tide and kills the two men and is immediately labeled an “American Hero”. Tom shuns the spotlight and wants to get back to his life, but this becomes difficult when some strange men show up. Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his two henchmen claim that Tom isn’t who he says he is, rather that he’s connected to organized crime in Philadelphia. Naturally, this uncertainty throws Tom and his family into a downward spiral as the movie examines the moral dilemma of Tom and his supposed past.
“A History of Violence” was one of the most critically-acclaimed movies of 2005 and there’s even a sticker on the DVD that says “On over 150 Top Ten Lists”. Ok, we get it – the movie is good! And it is, it’s well-made and the acting is top notch. William Hurt, who has a small part in the film, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and though he was good, I feel that he’ll need more than ten minutes of screen time to get an Oscar. But stranger things have happened (remember Judy Dench in “Shakespeare in Love”?). Hurt, Harris and Morgensen lead a great male cast and I feel that Maria Bello was overlooked for her role as Edie Stall. No matter what awards this movie won or didn’t win, it’s a great film and one that provokes thought. It’s a departure for Cronenberg, but that’s not to say that he can’t make a good “Non” Science Fiction film. Highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
“A History of Violence” looks absolutely beautiful in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Now I’m going to come right out and say it, I just spent a lot of money on a new DVD player and spent about an hour tweaking the video settings with my Avia disc. This is the first movie I’ve reviewed with it, so either the player is truly that much better than my previous one or the movie really does look great (I’m suspecting that it’s a combination of both). Nevertheless, New Line has done a fine job here as detail was excellent, flesh tones were normal and natural and I saw no evidence of artifacting. I noticed a few spots that seemed a bit soft and during the opening credits, it appeared as if the film was mis-framed (the “E” in “A History of Violence” was off the screen), but aside from that it’s a terrific-looking transfer as we might expect from New Line.
Audio: How does it sound?
A Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included (as is a Dolby Surround track) and while strong at times, it’s surprisingly quiet at others. Dialogue is the main focus of the track and though there are some ambient effects here and there, I found this to sound on par with a Surround mix. One thing that did strike me was the opening scene which featured a lot of bugs and insects that sounded as if they were surrounding the viewer (the point, I suppose) and though it’s a discrete effect, it was one that left an impression. On the whole, a good track.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As part of New Line’s Platinum Series, we can expect some good supplements and they don’t disappoint here. We start off with a commentary track by Director David Cronenberg which is very informative. He talks about the origins of the movie (a graphic novel) how he became involved in the project and some details about the shoot. It’s a good track and one that should be listened to. There are a trio of featurettes: “Acts of Violence” which shows some behind the scenes footage from different point in the movie. There is a comparison between the U.S. and International versions of the movie and “The Unmaking of Scene 44” which I’ll let the viewer see what that one is all about! Lastly, there’s a deleted scene with available director commentary. On the whole, “A History of Violence” was a well-made and thought-provoking movie which sports great audio/video and has just the right amount of supplements.