Sunday, February 18, 2007

Viggo trip

well, i decided to come right back and recap Cronenberg's "A History of Violence," which started over Winter Break--yeah, i'm still calling it that--but only finished today.

it's kind of a "Straw Dogs" scenario, or so it seems. Viggo Mortensen is Tom Stall, the proprietor of a small-town diner; he and his (hot) wife and nice kids live on a farm in Indiana. but wouldn't ya know it, things get all effed when some cold-blooded killers stop in for a bite and Tom has to waste them in self-defense.

the set-up to this movie--bout the first 45 minutes or so--it's absolutely frickin' riveting. just like in "Beetlejuice" or a million other movies where marital bliss gets shattered, Cronenberg shows you in somewhat excruciating detail how much Viggo and his wife love each other. it's not an elaborate exposition, but it does the trick; you're invested in these people's lives and when the violence comes, it stings pretty bad. the initial mayhem at the diner is gruesome and frighteningly efficient, but even more intense is the psychological torture that begins when scary mobster Ed Harris shows up afterward and starts accusing Viggo of having double-crossed him a while back in Philly. Viggo denies it, but there's fishy shit going on.

Ed Harris is just killer in this part--he's macho and crass and ruthless and just super mean and driven. there's this really palpable sense of menace when he enters the diner; you feel Viggo's world crumbling. like in Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men," there's this sense of an amoral and almost demonic modern evil descending on an innocent backwoods environment.

the tension builds expertly until about halfway through when more data comes to light and things come off the rails a bit. yes, William Hurt does appear as a greasy mobster and utter the word "broheim" on several occasions--that was the first point Joe brought up when he recommended the movie to me--but there's a sort of dull fizzle toward the end that dampened things for me.

see it for the exposition though. Viggo is an interesting actor. he's got this intriguing woodenness in this movie that almost reminds of an even more poker-faced Luke Wilson--just that kind of drawly, dewy-eyed, ultra-reserved thing, but really charming too. i remember him being similarly effective in this deeply freaky and awesome little-seen small-town surrealistic horrors-of-childhood flick "The Reflecting Skin" that i discovered back in high school. in "History," you trust him a lot, as a husband and father and community pillar, and that's key to what Cronenberg is doing here. it's one of those put-some-nice-folks-in-a-bottle-and-shake-them-up-to-see-how-they-react type of movies, or at least it seems so at first. glad i caught it.

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