Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, January 01, 2007
      ( 1/01/2007 08:52:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"YOU'RE TRYING SO HARD TO BE THIS OTHER GUY, IT'S PAINFUL TO WATCH!" – In between watching Marx Bros. comedies, I got a chance to view David Cronenberg's A History of Violence this weekend (how that for a shift in tone?) An efficiently unnerving picture, thought I: only Cronenberg could make his movie's overbright primary small-town setting so unsettling without resorting to easy audience cuing stylization. The showdown 'tween hero Viggo Mortensen's Tom/Joey and scarily scarred Ed Harris's Carl – the scary part is the realization that the disfiguration was given to Carl by Tom/Joey with a piece of barbed wire – in the sunny front yard of our hero's farmhouse is the movie's peak. When Tom/Joey returns to dark Philadelphia to confront his violent past (nicely exemplified by an over-the-top William Hurt), the seams of story formula become a little more apparent, though not disastrously so.

What ultimately lifts the film is its final scene: a denouement too many films skip altogether these days, simply contenting themselves with rolling the credits over a weary, but victorious hero once the action stops. In History, we see the awkward and uncomfortable moments after Mortensen's former gangster returns to his family – and the movie leaves us wondering what are they gonna do now? Watching it, I was reminded of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, a flawed seventies movie that uses violence to considerably different ends (in Dogs, gum-chewing Dustin Hoffman becomes an adult after he commits some good Ol' Testament vengeance on some thuggish village low-lifes) but also got you wondering about the long-term effects of the protagonist's violent acts. These days, not enough American movies (yeah, I know Cronenberg's Canadian, but you know what I mean) stop to take a look around at the results of the carnage they've just shown us, but History of Violence memorably does . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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