David Cronenberg's A History of Violence may be the longest 95-minute movie the cinetrix has ever seen.
Let me get this straight: The High Plains Drifter emerges from the witness protection program in central casting's idea of Norman Rockwell's America to settle old scores, and this is one of the best films of the year? Oy. To call it lugubrious barely begins to cover its self-important, stilted, sturm-und-drang dramatics.
A little background: Prestige pictures rarely make it to our plucky local one-and-a-half-run triplex before their dvd debuts, so when the acclaimed Cannes favorite opened a few weeks back, pal Britopia quipped that the seventh art had at last arrived in our humble hamlet. He, the Fesser, and I immediately arranged to see a Saturday screening. We were so innocent then.
There's also the Croenberg factor. For the cinetrix, the shadow of the speculum looms so large across the auteur's oeuvre that she's somehow managed to get this far in life having only seen eXistenZ and parts of Videodrome. I admit this knowing that my candor will allow some to dismiss what I have to say about Violence as rooted in ignorance, but c'mon. If the guy's been at it this long and can't wow me or Britopia....
To be fair, at first I liked the glacial pace. Humberty cheap motels, a little senseless bloodletting, a convertible, and the open road? Sign me up. But once the bad men hit the hick town where the Stall [oh, please] family lead their apple-pie lives of quiet desperation and turn the violence up to 11, the movie began to lose me. Guns blaze and television cameras follow. Father Tom clings to his aw-shucks shtick while wife Edie telegraphs uncertainty in baleful glances, son Jack batters the school bully, and daughter Sarah simpers. Uh-oh. The Stall Family Is In Crisis.
Then evil Ed Harris arrives to give the Stalls the hairy eyeball, signaling the start of a second, campier act in these Americans' lives. He insists that humble heartland heartthrob Tom Stall is actually Joey, a nasty piece of work who went after Ed's eye with barbed wire once upon a time in Philly. As Fogerty, Harris menacingly manifests himself around town like a latter-day Robert Blake, causing Maria Bello's Edie to question whether there might be some truth to ol' one-eyed Tiresias's portentious pronouncements. Ya think? When Tom ultimately dispatches Fogerty and his henchmen in their front yard with professional aplomb, her worst fears are realized. Poor thing.
If only Violence had ended there. Instead, Robo-Tom heads east in his pickup to Philly to confront his past, in the form of William Hurt's deliciously demented Richie Cusack. At this point, the Fesser leaned over to whisper of Hurt: "He's a fucking genius." Agreed, but even Hurt's gleeful scenery chewing was not enough to redeem this film or to earn its homey/unheimlich meatloaf dinner [!!!] ending.
Violence plays like a Lifetime made-for-television movie with better production values. I never believed in Viggo as Mr. Middle America or as a Philly gangster, nor did I buy the admirably fierce Bello as a woman old enough to have a law degree and a teen-aged son. Hell, I didn't even believe that the little towhead had actually had a nightmare about monsters. Sure, old pros Ed Harris and William Hurt transcend the ridiculousness of their roles through sheer chutzpah, but that's not the same thing as being convincing.
If everyone in A History of Violence seems like a gun for hire, what does it matter who pulls the trigger, or how often?