The Godfather saga. Apocalypse Now. Full Metal Jacket. Unforgiven. The Passion of the Christ. They've all been rightfully celebrated as artful, original explorations of dark subject matter, unflinching in their portrayals of human evil. Each film leaves viewers exhausted, bruised by depictions of gross violence. This is not mere "entertainment." Many viewers would be wise to avoid them altogether. Not all sensibilities are equipped for such troubling explorations.
A History of Violence belongs on that list. If you buy a ticket for this nightmarish vision, proceed with extreme caution … and vigilant conscience. It is a supremely executed and revelatory work on the nature and consequences of physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual violence. But while it is cleverly crafted and meaningful, it is not pleasant or uplifting. Just as it takes a strong, discerning doctor to cut into a human body and search for the disease amidst the gore, so it takes a certain kind of moviegoer to glean insight from David Cronenberg's discomforting exploration of human misbehavior.
The Fly, Dead Ringers, Spider—Cronenberg's is a history of violent stories. With Violence, he'll likely earn an Oscar nomination for direction. John Olson's screenplay is cleverly adapted from a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Peter Suschitzky's cinematography meticulously conceals enough information to keep us on edge. The supporting cast—Maria Bello, Ashton Holmes, Ed Harris, and above all the show-stealing William Hurt—delivers complex performances. But the movie belongs to Viggo Mortensen, who gives his strongest, most intuitive performance. It'll take fifteen minutes for you to forget all about his role as Aragorn in the ...1