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Acting powers ‘Violence’

Molly Griffin | Friday, March 31, 2006

The title of the film “A History of Violence” doesn’t lie – the film is raw, bloody and emotionally devastating. It boasts fantastic performances from a bevy of talented actors, and while the story gets lost at times in the sheer grittiness of the film, it is a deeply powerful portrayal of one of humanity’s most basic instincts.

“A History of Violence” centers on Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a seemingly normal everyman living in a small town in Indiana. His life changes radically when he displays a somewhat eerie proficiency for killing when his diner is almost robbed. His violent act, while portrayed as heroic, only leads to greater and more escalated violence in the world around him. His brutal exhibition eventually calls his identity into question and manages to tear his family apart.

The film displays a variety of types of violence, from heroic to senseless, youthful to sexual, and it reveals the destructive power in all of these forms. The story itself in the film, while important, is truly in place so as to allow violence to occur and wreak bloody havoc on the characters, revealing its universally damaging effects.

Acting emerges as the greatest draw in “A History of Violence,” with wrenching performances from numerous characters. Mortensen manages to balance the family man warmth and cold-blooded killing instincts that his character exhibits with great skill, while Maria Bello is a whirlwind of emotions as his wife Edie. Supporting comes from Ed Harris and William Hurt, who was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category for his work in “A History of Violence.”

Director David Cronenberg doesn’t shy away from showing graphic, disturbingly violent images. This unflinching portrayal of violence is alternately disturbing and powerful, and is what ultimately gives the film its gut -wrenching emotional impact.

“A History of Violence” is part of a recent trend in Hollywood – films based on graphic novels. The film is based on the work by Vince Locke and John Wagner and joins recent graphic novel – inspired cinema like “Sin City” and “V for Vendetta.”

The DVD of “A History of Violence” features a number of features that enhance the viewing of the film. There is audio commentary from Cronenberg that provides some insight into the film as a whole, and there are three featurettes included as well. The first, “Violence’s History: U.S. vs. International Versions,” compares the U.S. cut of the film to the more graphic international release. “Too Commercial for Cannes” looks at the film’s release at the French film festival, while the third feature “Act of Violence,” which clocks in at 65 minutes, provides the entire background on the film’s production.

A lengthy deleted scene is included on the DVD, and it includes optional director commentary. Along with this lengthy scene is the featurette “The Unmaking of Scene 44” which details how the scene was made and why it was ultimately axed from the film.

The graphic, brutal nature of “A History of Violence” can make it difficult to stomach. But the film provides a deeply moving commentary on the role of violence, not only within families but as part of human nature as a whole.

The extras on the DVD add insight into the film’s purpose, but in the end, it is the film itself that stands alone as a somewhat complicated work. While viewers may leave the film with conflicted feelings, it is impossible to remain untouched by the raw emotional power of the film.