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film review **

A Mediocre ‘History’ Not Worth Studying

By Yong-yi Zhu

A History of Violence

Directed by David Cronenberg

Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke

Written by John Olson

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello,

and Ed Harris

Rated R

David Cronenberg attempts the near impossible in directing “A History of Violence.” Though he comes close to conquering this Everest, the movie fell short of my expectations. There is a moment during the film when you wonder what this movie is really about, not because it’s too deep, but because too many things are happening, and nothing seems to come together.

The movie is well done — the subtleties are all there. You can tell Cronenberg really poured his heart and talent into this production. However, the story is simply too difficult to tell and too emotional to convey well. It is hard to make violence subtle and tasteful when it has such a large presence in the film.

The weakest part is the plot. The film opens with two strangers who go on a killing spree. Even though they’re not main characters, they are, in fact, at the central problem of the film.

Next comes Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), who lives the quiet town life. Edie Stall (Maria Bello) plays the perfect wife to Tom and the perfect (perhaps too perfect?) mother to young Jack and Sarah. One night, the two killers from the film’s opening walk into Tom’s diner, pull out guns, and threaten to rob and kill everyone. Out of nowhere, Tom shoots the two men in self-defense. What follows plunges the movie into madness.

Tom’s face is suddenly plastered all over TV; everyone learns of his heroics, including bad guys. Mobsters, led by Carl Fogaty (Ed Harris), appear at Tom’s diner to confront him about his past; they claim his real name is Joey Cusack, who was a former mobster who ran away. They want Tom to go with them and refuse to leave, chasing him and his family. Tom faces a choice between claiming a past that might not be his and dealing with these men.

This film does have its redeeming qualities despite the underdeveloped characters and disjoint plot. The fantastic use of sound helps create the right mood for every scene. In particular, silence is used to effectively convey the deliberations of Tom and his family. The audience is forced to pause and think when faced with this startling quiet.

As Tom, Viggo Mortensen shows a silent pain. He seems outwardly content, but his mysterious reticence makes you wonder about his past. Is he who he says he is, or is there more than meets the eye? In the role of Edie, Maria Bello perfectly complements Mortensen’s reserve. Expressive and lively, she represents the happy wife that many men seek.

These positive qualities, however, are not enough to balance the overwhelming problems with the film. Its true downfall lies in the fact that the film is intended for the mainstream, which kills the motivating intelligence.