Quick summary review – A History of Violence is a spectacular film.
Without any major spoilers, the story is of a normal guy named Tom – almost too normal – played by Viggo Mortensen. He’s got great kids, runs a little coffee shop, has a hot, loving wife, played by Maria Bello.
All is well – we see him parenting his kids, we see him happy in his job. We also get an incredibly hot sex scene, where we see Maria Bello put on a cheerleader costume, flash her panties, and then get to see the only 69 I can recall ever seeing in a big hollywood movie. It’s a natural and absolutely real moment.
And let me say how fucking hot I think Maria Bello is. Rrrrrrrrowr.
All of this small town domestic bliss cracks wide open when two killers come to town; they go to stick up Tom’s diner, Tom stops them in a way that looks more trained assassin than small-town business owner, and suddenly the facade cracks and we start to wonder who Tom is.
Along the way we meet some truly memorable characters in smallish parts – Ed Harris as a made guy names Fogarty, William Hurt as Richie Cusack (looking freakishly like my buddy Eric – mannerisms, body language, even his walk), several lesser-known actors in small tough-gy and criminal roles. All of these incredibly well cast and acted. Harris and Hurt are both great stand-outs, chewing up the screen with very little actual screen-time.
This isn’t an action film – it has a slow, careful, measured pace; some reviewers seem to find it too slow. But it’s really a psychological portrait, and a film about double lives and questions of identity. Who is this guy, we wonder. The film never really answers that question, but asks it eloquently. The film’s full of people who leave you wondering; the thugs in the movie’s opening, Hurt and Harris’ characters, and of course, Mortensen’s Tom. Who are they and how did they get this way, you wonder.
On the other hand, when the film does turn violennt, like a ticking time bomb going off, it’s deeply and scarily violent, bloody and gory (Cronenberg, how can it not); it’s gruesome and scary, with a great deal of blood and a high body count for a movie of this kind.
Another high point is an incredibly hot sex scene in the middle of the movie – a quasi-rape between Tom (Mortensen) and his wife Edie (Bello). Hat, beautiful, brutal and disturbing, it’s one of those I’d like to get a clip of and watch over and over. The way Bello plays it – fear and rage, turning almost against her will to sexual intensity, is simply stunning.
Another thing about the sex scenes in this movie – they’re accomplished with virtually no nudity. The only nudity in the film is a quick (and blessedly full-frontal) shot of Bello coming out of the shower – talk about moments where you want a pause button.
This is the best film I’ve seen in quite a long time, at least the best I’ve seen in a theater. It’s not a simple or easy film, and the ending leaves so much unresolved (correctly so, a brilliant ending in my opinion). But I can’t recommend it highly enough.