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David Cronenberg is a nice Canadian boy from Toronto. In fact, he still lives there and shoots many of his movies in Toronto. That's right, David Cronenberg, the King of Horror films, director of Scanners, The Fly, Dead Ringers and Crash, is a Canuck. Somehow, after getting a degree in literature from the University of Toronto, he naturally turned to making horror movies. Go figure. Anyway, his latest film, A History of Violence is not strictly speaking a horror film. In fact, his recent movies have been less about external horror and more about the horror inside each of us. That is exactly what A History of Violence explores. It tells the story of a man (Viggo Mortensen) who runs a little cafe in a little town in Indiana. He is happily married with a loving wife (Maria Bello) and two kids (Ashton Holmes & Heidi Hayes). Nothing much happens to them and to their town until one night when two very bad guys (Stephen McHattie & Greg Bryk) come into the cafe. They try to rob the place and are about to kill someone when Mortensen flies into action, shooting and killing both men. He is hailed as a hero in the town and the story makes it onto the national news. Soon afterward, some more bad men arrive in town, led by a mobster with a scarred face (Ed Harris). They saw Mortensen on the news and think that he is their old friend Joey from Philly. They want Mortensen to come back with them to "talk" to his brother (William Hurt). Needless to say, Mortensen says that he isn't Joey, but then as Harris says to Mortensen's wife, if he's not Joey then "how come he's so good at killing people?" Well, I won't give any more of the plot away although this movie doesn't have a surprise ending like Flightplan.This is a very stylish and smoothly directed film with a great cast. A History of Violence was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes. It is another film like Sin City that is based on a graphic novel or what I would call a comic book. But while Sin City was made to look and feel like a graphic novel, A History of Violence has none of that. Its characters are well fleshed out and it is only as the film progresses and the level of violence increases and increases that a certain similarity to Sin City emerges. There is also a troubling scene where Bello, playing Mortensen's wife, decides that he really is Joey the mobster, and then suddenly decides to have rough sex with him. But that is the message of A History of Violence. The veneer of civilization is very very thin and everyone is capable of horrible violence. The message is made more stark by painting Mortensen as a very bland milquetoast living in a quiet town where nothing ever happens.
A History of Violence has a nice cast. You may recognize the two baddies at the beginning of the movie. They are both Canadian actors. McHattie has a memorable face and has made a career out of playing character parts in films such as Secretary. In his next movie, he is playing Dick Irvin in Maurice Richard. Ok, that may be too Canadian for most of you, as is Greg Bryk's memorable role in Men With Brooms. Ed Harris is really great as the slimy mobster with one eye, and it is really nice to see William Hurt. He has been MIA lately but he is very good here. Maria Bello (ER, Coyote Ugly, The Cooler) is finally getting some good roles and although this is your basic "wife" role, she does some good things with it. I felt that the only weak link was Viggo Mortensen. He is now famous for playing Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy but I just felt like he was a bit too bland in this part. He was OK in the first part of the movie but as the story evolves, he doesn't really change at all. I'm sure this is part of the message of the movie but I would have liked to see a little more about what makes his character tick. But that is just a minor criticism. A History of Violence is a very good film with a Cronenberg twist to it. Go see it.