Fantastic film! A word of warning though- do not see this film on a Sunday afternoon in a crowded multiplex theater. It's interesting to see people when their confronted with an art film on their commercial film screen. Right from the opening, Cronenberg's western noir pastiche elicited the wrong responses from people- snickers during pretty intense sex scenes and laughter at the sight of people being blown away in visceral swipes of real time violence. It's almost too much irony to swallow; people lapping up and responding inapropiately to the exact type of action film that Cronenberg juxtaposes within this art house framework. But, that point aside, this is Cronenberg's best (and scariest) film in quite some time and one of my favorites of the year.
Cronenberg has created a 'fill the void' film- if you want to interpret it as a violent political outcry against the government and our societies' penchant for blood, you got it. If you prefer to see it as an extension of Cronenberg's sensation for the doppelganger, you've got that. And if you care to view A History of Violence as a fairly straightforward re-creation of a graphic novel that allows Cronenberg to confront his sexual and psychological fetishes, then you've certainly got that right. Me, I love everything about it. From the opening scene (as two "bad men" check out of a hotel), Cronenberg douses a supreme sense of dread over the film. The way the camera slowly glides along in one take, the lazy (almost hallucinatory) manner in which the two men carry on a conversation, and the slow ambiguous walk into the hotel office- all of it places us in the capable hands of a director refusing to play by convention. It's not too far off from the nightmarish suburban hinterlands of David Lynch, especially the dark greens and shadowy blacks of the film's final moments between Viggo and an excessively entertaining William Hurt as well as the cartoonish niceness of the small town Viggo and his family reside (where everybody on the street knows your first name). Still, none of this would mean anything if it weren't for the talents of the cast and Cronenberg's reluctance to play anything straight (and turn the film's second half into a dark mirror of the first). The playful and erotic sex between Tom Stall (Viggo) and his wife (Maria Bello) that preceeds the outburst of violence soon gives way to an angry, grudge fuck on a staircase that leaves the wife's back bruised after the killings. Even something as natural and expected as a brief shot of her naked body coming out of the bathroom in front of her husband carries mordant guilt and doubt. This is a film about transgression. This is a film about lies and the way a snake can shed it's skin, but never turn into anything but a snake. And for the record, there's nothing wrong with laughing or having fun at a movie, just not one as serious and determined as A History of Violence.