Saturday: 01.October.2005

A History of Violence: A Rad Film / Movie review

Saw A History of Violence last night, up the road at the Big Newport, on the giant screen there. Opening night. Theater not very full. Stars Viggo. Little Nik said, "Vee-go. Now *that's* a cool name!"

Despite strong reviews, I was disappointed. Maybe because of them. I mean, Rotten Tomatoes selected it as its Certified Fresh pick-of-the-week. Maybe my expectations were too high. This is the first Certified Fresh flick I found disappointing.

Violence starts painfully slow (almost boring). Story-telling, especially in the first half, is labored and unnatural. The dialogue comes off as mechanical.

A review I read said: A History of Violence is character-driven, not story-driven. What that means is, it has great characters (Ed Harris plays a very colorful mobster from Philly) but the story-telling suks.

You might know somebody who's a good storyteller, somebody who can make even a mediocre story sound enchanting. Whereas a bad storyteller can ruin even the best story. I feel that's what happened here. At least in the first half. (Second half is better.)

I felt drawn to this flick cuz of the recent accusations of violence filed against me. Indeed, Maria Bello, who plays Viggo's attorney-wife, gets a Restraining Order against bad-guy Ed Harris and his henchmen. To which Viggo responds (rolling his eyes), "A lot of good *that'll* do."


Speaking of Maria Bello, I was unprepared for the s-e-x scenes, finding them uncomfortably graphic. Interesting how the filmmakers tied violence to s-e-x. Some claim both impulses share a common origin (which might be why women sometimes find themselves attracted to "bad boys").

The buzz on this flick is: it raises compelling and thoughtful questions about the nature of violence. I did not feel this movie tried to offer any answers, tho. Certainly, I did not walk away with any enlightening insights into the nature of its subject.

The first question raised: Once violent, always violent? Viggo's character (a cross between Mr. Cunningham & Rambo) says, "I went to the desert and spent three years there killing Joey" (his violent alter-ego).

Christians - more than any other group - seem to embrace the notion of dying to the old-bad-self and being re-born as something better. For example, bad-boy Saul was transformed on the road to Damascus into the apostle Paul, who ended up writing 2/3rds of the New Testament. Bad-boy George gave up cocaine & bourbon and eventually became the 43rd POTUS.

Next question: how do we know these self-professed conversions are genuine? Some claim George hasn't really found God, but rather the party of God. And even if these conversations are "genuine," it can still be difficult to avoid falling back into old patterns .. as Viggo's character makes plain .. since the old hard-wired circuitry apparently remains after "conversion".

Another question: Can we really trust someone who says, "I'm not like that anymore..." ?? In the film, Viggo's family initially rejects his claims that he is no longer a mobster. (I found their initial response unrealistic, since he had already proven his loyalty.)

Viggo does a great job at playing a character who is believable as both warm-hearted and cold-blooded, capable of both tender compassion and comfortable with dispensing large quantities of violence in a small amount of time. And therein lies the movie's primary sticking-point, for we are all capable of both kindness & violence .. given the right situations.

Who would not find it within them to wax violent .. if their life, or the lives of their family were threatened?

The movie also makes the point that proficiency in dispensing violence can be a valuable thing. In the case of Viggo's character, it saved his life and the lives of those around him. How about our soldiers in Iraq? Do we-taxpayers not spend much money training them to respond to violence (and perceived potential-violence) with even greater violence?

And what is violence anyway? What one person considers "violent," might not ring true as such with another. This was a point of contention at my recent court case. If someone took your keys, and you took them back, hurting their pinkie in the process .. would that be abusive? (The judge didn't think so.)

In this movie, I hoped to find something I could relate to, and maybe even come away with an answer that might offer consolation, since I felt attacked (legally) by recent accusations .. which separated me from my son .. for more than 40 days & 40 nights.

I walked out of the theater frustrated, thinking I could've made the flick much better, by asking better questions .. in a better way .. using more natural dialogue. I also think William Hurt's character was mis-cast. Here's where I think the filmmakers and I agree:

we live in a world where violence (unfortunately) exists
we cannot control how or when violence visits us
when violence threatens to rear its ugly head, it's best to stay cool and focused (and whack 'em with the coffee pot)
we may each find ourselves in situations where violence becomes necessary
a troubled (violent) past can affect our future, no matter how far we run, or how well we hide
to be truly free from the "bad-guys" of our past, we must muster the courage to confront them on their own ground (best part of the flick)

Movie's key line: "I shoulda killed ya back in Philly."

Walking out, I overheard a couple discussing the film. She liked it. He did not.

Final thoughts: Maria Bello's legs are worth the price of admission.

For more info, here is a Google search pre-configured for the query-string: history violence film movie review

Posted by Rad at October 1, 2005 12:34 PM


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