Friday, December 02, 2005

A History of Violence

Finally, a movie based on a source material that I've read! Based on the graphic novel of the same name by writer John Wagner and artist Vince Locke, A History of Violence is David Cronenberg's latest film starring Viggo Mortensen (don't know why, but I'm always seeing Elessar in his new character...)

I'm usually ok with film adaptations not sticking closely to the material it's based on, basically because they're on different mediums, and it's a bore to have the movie follow the book word for word, scene for scene. Although this review will be working on the premise that it is a stand alone film, I can't help to notice that, unfortunately, the book told the better story, in terms of characterization (ok, so the movie is relatively short, clocking in about 90mins) and the back story on Tom's (Viggo) history.

If you'd bear with me, I'd highlight some of the major departures from the book - Tom's son now has a beefed up role, Ed Harris's wounded eye is on the wrong side (as shown in the trailers and movie, it's on his left, but it should be the right) and Tom's last name from McKenna has been changed to Stall. The story and ending of Richie has been totally changed. The book has 3 chapters, but it's only the first that the movie dwells upon, and completely changing and summarizing the last 2 chapters.

The introduction is one incredibly long, and slow scene which showcases the 2 killers that Tom dispatches in his diner thereafter. I like this scene which is superior to the book, but somehow it sets the pace of the entire movie - slow and measured.

The story tells of an everyday all American Family, the Stalls, who live in a small town of Millbrook, Indiana, being brought to the limelight when head of the household Tom, guns down 2 violent thugs who robbed his diner and threatening his customers. Tom, a soft-spoken man, becomes the town's hero, and soon after, more thugs from the East Coast come and stalk him and his family.

But is Tom the man he claims he is, or has his past finally caught up with him? Playing Tom, Viggo Mortensen puts up a credible performance as the unassuming Tom Stall, and does an about turn as a violent character of his past. While the theme talks about violence and the debate on the necessity of it, it gets brushed away pretty quick towards the last act, which degenerates this movie into a short actioner.

Needless to say, the psyche of the Family plays an important role between contrasting the relationship between Tom and his wife and kids, which changes as the movie progresses, and that between Tom and Ritchie (completely re-written for the movie), which I thought was a pity.

The R21 rating is for violence (gruesome shots of heads blown off etc), but if they'd stuck to the book, there'll be more scenes like the one with the drill-in-the-leg torture scene, etc. But Cronenberg decided to include sex scenes between Tom and his wife, which figured some cheerleading role play, a 69, and a totally out of character rowdy staircase romp. Hello, this is not a History of Sex. (I know it's Cronenberg, but still)

While I liked this film for its slow pace (no frantic MTV styled quick cuts, or scenes which appear and disappear at the bat of an eyelid), I can't shake off the feeling that this film had the potential to be way, way better. Excellent I do not think so, but it still is an enjoyable movie to catch on a weekday.

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