The Adirondack Review
A History of Violence
Reviewed by Michael Meyerhofer
Directed by David Cronenberg  Rated R
Pop quiz. Pretend you're in a pitched gun battle with a highly-skilled killer who has already eliminated all of your underlings, and you know said killer is right on the other side of a closed door, about to come out and shoot you. Do you: A) step off to the side, kneel down in the bushes with your gun raised, and try and pick him off when the door opens, or B) set your gun aside and fish around in your pocket for your house keys? Hmmm.... Yeah, that's a tough call. But if you answered B, maybe you could be a character in "A History of Violence."

"A History of Violence" is the story of Tom Stall (played by Viggo Mortensen), a small town family man who, while working in a diner one night, foils an attempted robbery/rape/murder by offing the would-be killers. From there, things escalate—and not just in terms of violence. The truth about Tom Stall's past is called into question in this mob thriller that could be psychologically tense, were it not so extremely predictable and poorly-made.

To begin with, Maria Bello, the actress who plays Stall's wife, offers up what is perhaps the worst acting I've seen since the CGI Bambi's in "The Ring II"... closely followed by the two kids playing her children. Furthermore, the plot of "A History of Violence" is so flat and cliche-ridden that I kept expecting each implausible scene to reveal itself as a badly-conceived dream sequence, but to no avail. The dialog can be summed up in four words: that's just bad writing. And the action, while well-shot, is as silly as the plot line.

If, perhaps, the film was intended to be a satire, all of these flaws would be passable. But it isn't. The quasi-eerie soundtrack, lighting, and action all seem to suggest that this is supposed to be a nail-biting thriller… minus the thrills, of course. Screenwriters Josh Olson, John Wagner II, and Vince Locke ask us to believe that the FBI doesn't bother getting involved in highly-publicized incidents of mobsters rolling through small towns with guns blazing. Audiences are also asked to accept that one character—a sort of "maniac in recovery" who hasn't trained, killed, or even seriously fought in well over a decade—has no trouble blasting his way through a swarm of armed, seasoned bad guys.

One bright spot is Ed Harris who, in spite of the rest of the film, delivers a great performance. Harris oozes menace as the mob's scar-faced hatchet man. As in "The Hours," he is a show stealer in "A History of Violence," although he might have been better cast as Richie Cusack, the "main bad guy", awkwardly played instead by William Hurt.

Michael Meyerhofer's first full-length book, Leaving Iowa, won the Liam Rector First Book Award from Briery Creek Press.  He is also the author of two chapbooks--Cardboard Urn and The Right Madness of Beggars, winners of the Copperdome Chapbook Contest and the Uccelli Chapbook Contest, respectively.  His work has appeared in North American Review, Arts & Letters, National Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, Fugue and others.

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