A History of Violence is a 2005 film starring Viggo Mortensen and directed by David Cronenberg. (He also directed the 2007 film Eastern Promises and the 2011 film A Dangerous Method, both starring, you guessed it, Viggo Mortensen.) I have seen Eastern Promises multiple times and just recently saw A Dangerous Method, not to mention numerous other Viggo films, so I was prepared to be blown away.
The film wasn’t terrible, and it didn’t disappoint in the BAMF department, but it definitely wasn’t his best film. There was plenty of graphic violence and unbelievable situations for Viggo to wriggle his way out of, but the acting, especially the child acting, was pretty terrible.
Let’s start with the bad. Considering that every actor in the film has a long list of titles under their belts, I don’t get the weak performances. This wasn’t David Cronenberg’s first rodeo, either, but considering I saw his later works first, I must have just been spoiled. The acting was extremely flat in parts and then way overdone in others. The children reminded me more of robots than children. In the opening scenes, for example, when the homicidal maniac shot the whimpering kid, I was laughing at how the kid was crying. I don’t really think that’s what they were shooting for (no pun intended). Ed Harris was really the only actor I can exclude from this, because I didn’t get that awkward feeling in any of his scenes. Everything just felt a little bit off and the cheese factor was off the charts. A scene that really exemplifies this is when the local sheriff shows up at Tom’s house and tries to get to the bottom of his “history”. His wife starts bawling uncontrollably (too much, in my opinion) and then the sheriff leaves. After that, Tom and his wife, Edie, start slapping each other around in an apparently erotic way because then they start doing it on the stairs. I can relate because I know I get all hot and bothered when I learn about my husband’s secret mob history and we’ve punched each other a few times.
Another example of the cheesy bad acting was when Fogarty (Ed Harris) confronts Tom (Viggo) about his history in the Philadelphia mob. Tom gives him a shit-eating grin and denies it–but it comes across as really fake. I couldn’t tell if Tom was supposed to be an amnesiac, an idiot, or just a really bad liar. (If they were going for bad liar then they succeeded.) He kept denying it repeatedly with that same goofy look on his face, and I didn’t buy his reaction, not one bit. Also, he had a tendency to talk way too softly, which just reminded me of the really bad voice-overs they did for the children in Pod People (“I think I’ll call him trumpy”). If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you can suck it. Or try googling.
Moving on to the good stuff. There was plenty of graphic, gratuitous violence with Viggo at the helm. He punches a man repeatedly in the face, and then they show the man lying on the ground struggling to breathe with what’s left. Or after Tom shoots Crapley in the head and they show him dead on the ground, his face blown off. I’m not into torture porn or anything, but they did do a good job of making it gory enough to be realistic but not so gory that it made me want to throw up. Not only that, but they made Viggo’s character seem innocent, likable, and secretly capable of an ass-whooping all in one fell swoop. This is a woman’s dream man: sensitive, handsome, with an ability to pistol-whip his enemies at the slightest provocation.
The peak of awesomeness in this movie happens at the end, when Tom’s brother Richie orders his men to have him killed–Tom miraculously escapes from the choke wire and kills both of them. He runs downstairs, tricks Richie into going outside (proving Viggo is not just handsome but smart, too), shutting the door behind him and using the opportunity to shoot the final henchman multiple times in the head, blood splattering everywhere. Finally he steps outside and delivers a fatal bullet to Richie’s skull. He killed his own brother! The amount of sheer ruthlessness was awesome. Show no mercy, Viggo. Show no mercy.
Overall, the film didn’t let me down in the action department. There was more than enough Violence to satisfy me. The acting was where I really felt let down. Though the cast was filled with experienced actors, only one managed to deliver a solid performance.