The Red Sox, Yankees and Braves have been vanquished from the playoffs, effectively eliminating all the compelling post-season storylines for us east coast types. To fill valuable column inches, the Triple Play crew presents our inaugural offseason movie review, the first of however many we have to do before MLB announces an owner for the Nats.
Today's review: A History of Violence
Matt Watson - 3 Baseballs
The opening scene in A History of Violence sets the tone from the very start. We see two very bad men and the very bad things they’re capable of. We don’t know anything about them, other than the fact that you don’t want to run into them. This is immediately juxtaposed with our introduction to the Stall family and their idyllic country life and with that stark comparison the tone is set for the rest of the film.
Viggo Mortenson plays Tom Stall, a quiet, small town, family man. He runs the local diner, knows all the patrons by name, and seems like a good decent man. Tom’s wife Edie, played by Maria Bello, shares his unassuming country life along with their teenage son (Ashton Holmes) and their young daughter (Heidi Hayes). Their existence is painted like a Norman Rockwell painting, all warm hues and kindly characters. There’s a little spice to the mix as seen by Maria Bello’s turn in her high school cheerleader outfit, and their son is having trouble with the local bully but other than that things are almost perfect for the Stalls.
Nate responds: 2 baseballs
Much of the preliminary publicity surrounding A History of Violence has focused on what reviewers have labeled "gratuitous" sex and violence. But complaints about excessive explicit imagery are more properly understood as criticisms of badly plotted sex and violence. Quentin Tarantino has made an entire career out of taking sex and violence beyond their logical extremes, but to attack any of it as gratuitous is to misunderstand his movies.
In this film however, some of the explicit elements are gratuitous; not because they are unnecessary, but because they become a sloppy shorthand for absent character development. A History of Violence was adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, and retains many of that genre's signature elements. Edie Stall is every man's fantasy as the devoted wife and mother who is still willing and able to wear her high school cheerleading uniform for a night of raunchy sex with hubby. The Stall's son Jack is a perfect stand-in for your average graphic novel reader, the sarcastic, sensitive high schooler pushed to the breaking point by a bully so generic it's a wonder he wasn't named Biff.
Ideally, the central conflict of the movie would be the tension of a family forced to confront and find a way to relate to the man they never really knew. But these characters are too one-demensional to allow for that kind of growth. The sexy wife, the sarcastic teenager and the cute daughter are archetypes, and archetypes don't do change. Instead, what we get is essentially two movies welded at the middle, the idyllic Stall family meets the post-modern Stall family, a homicidal Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
That said, A History of Violence contains some engaging performances and entertaining set-pieces, not the least Jack Stall's final showdown with his high school tormentor and William Hurt's scene stealing performance as a Philadelphia mobster. The film had the potential to be a thought-provoking meditation on past and responsibility, but David Cronenberg failed to get behind the graphic novel theatrics and into the hearts of the characters.