Cult Canadian director David Cronenberg returns with a stark take on the gangster genre, drawn from the graphic novel of the same title. With Viggo Mortensen.
Some observers have seen David Cronenberg’s recent work as representing his move toward a more realistic critique of American society, overlooking the fact that, as the director himself has pointed out, each of his films comprise part of a larger whole. Each share elements -- man’s inevitable metamorphosis, the precarious dynamic fusing sexuality and violence -- that make it possible to trace a line through all of his work. With A History Of Violence, Cronenberg uses the pulp gangster genre – as opposed to, say, sci-fi horror -- to draw us into a dialogue on our relationship as voyeurs to violence, both real and cinematic. Small town everyman-turned-killer Tom Stall -- beautifully played with fractured heroism by Mortensen, a heavily underrated actor -- is the focus of our complicit gaze. We don’t want to accept the creature that he’s becoming, and yet, as he does, we take pleasure in his move from protecting his family to vindictive action. The deceptively simple, graphic novel-derived compositions lure the audience in, implicating us in the process. Moral demarcation isn’t the goal in Cronenberg’s world, however: he seeks to unnerve us, intellectually and emotionally, and Violence is especially rich in this respect. Though the film engages John Ford-meets-Leave It To Beaver clichés as its canvas, this isn’t the veiled indictment of “gun-crazy” America that some critics liked to imagine. It’s a more complex agenda; a suggestion of how -- as we witness in the horrible yet compelling sex scene so pivotal to the film -- those things that attract and repel us most as an audience are frequently one and the same.