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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: A History of Violence (Highly Recommended)

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#1 of 65 OFFLINE   Matt Stone

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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:05 PM

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A History of Violence
Directed By: David Cronenberg

Studio: New Line
Year: 2005
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)
Running Time: 96 Mins.
Rating: R (Strong Brutal Violence, Graphic Sexuality, Nudity, Language and Some Drug Use)
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital (English), 2.0 Dolby Digital (English)
Subtitles: English, and Spanish
MSRP: $28.98
Street Date: 14 March, 2006

Review Date: 14 March, 2006
(Ratings are out of five stars)

You've seen the trailers, maybe even read the comic book, but I'm not going to get into too many plot details in this review. Viggo Mortensen plays small-town diner-owner, Tom Stall, who when push comes to shove is able to fend off a couple of thieves/murderers/etc. It isn't long before a group of crime syndicate goons come to town assuming Tom is long-lost Mafioso, Joey Cusack. That's all your getting out of me. Needless to say, Cronenberg is able to effectively blend all of his artistic elements (direction, cinematography, acting, etc) into a brilliant film.

Cronenberg introduces a corruptive, menacing element early on. In fact, the opening sequence of a film does a lot to set up the overall tone and style. Cronenberg presents us with slow developing, visual storytelling highlighted with moments of grisly violence. This tone is achieved through excellent cinematic vision. Lighting and composition are both used very effectively in A History of Violence. A subdued autumnal color scheme is tweaked with the use of light and shadows to express subtext and atmosphere. The composition and framing of the film reminded me of Lynch. Cronenberg's picturesque representation of small-town life with a dark twist was like something out of Blue Velvet. Moving shots were used sparingly, but very effectively and even Cronenberg's static shots had a kinetic energy about them. Characters tilted their heads or the camera was pointed in a way that showed off the structural angles of the shot. It made for a very substantial 3D look to the film as opposed to something shot flatter without any depth of field. Howard Shore's atmospheric score also helped define the film. It's mostly subdued but occasionally rises to a triumphant climax. There are always hints of menace in the music. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Shore's exceptional Silence of the Lambs score.

The acting is terrific. Nuance is on display and even Ed Harris (who I believed would come a cross much more cartoonish) underplays his role to a very solid level. Maria Bello (Tom Stall's wife) plays an excellent emotional barometer for the film. William Hurt was deserving of his Oscar nom with his unique performance. I can say it's like nothing I've ever seen Hurt do. He wasn't in he film much, but he had a huge impact. Viggo is Viggo. The guy has the ability to make most roles better, and this one is no exception. He comes across as completely natural and down-to-earth, with subtle hints of something darker. Whether Tom is in fact Joey Cusack in hiding, the penetrating explosion of violence in his life awakens something else. With the flip of a switch, Viggo is able to convey an entirely different personality, both menacing and calculating.

There is an absolute crazy level of gore in this film. It's always tied to utterly brutal events that pop up like exclamation points to plot details. Nobody directs violence like Cronenberrg and he's at top form in this film. It's ironic that the gore level is over-the-top, but Cronenberg tells the story through subtext and visual storytelling. On the whole, the movie is very subtle underscored with moments of deafening violence. The film examines our perception of violence with the use of great bookend moments. What defines a heroic act? An aggressive act?..etc. The film gives no definite answer, but certainly provokes the viewer to an opinion of some sort. Cronenberg visually explores this theme with a high level of skill.

It's movies like this that get me excited about movies. I feel like I could write a book about it, but if I keep going on, I know I'll never stop. I'd also probably give away the entire ploy, and we can't let that happen. You need to see this film for yourself. Rent it, buy it, just find it.

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The video was a little on the grainy side. I’ve said before that grain doesn’t bother me, and that was certainly the case here. For this film, the dirt and grime worked. It didn’t seem to have been done in an arbitrary manner. I did not get the chance to see this film theatrically, but it seems to be well represented on the DVD. The colors looked very natural and the excellent lighting presented beautifully on the DVD. Another top-notch job from the always excellent New Line Studios.

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New Line has also done a great job presenting the audio portion of this film. While most of the movie is a talking-heads drama, the score and action scenes were showcased effectively. The sound comes primarily out of the front channels, but rears are used for ambiance and music. Howard Shore’s brilliant score sounds beautiful and enveloping, while voices sound crisp and clear. I didn’t notice any problems with hiss on the dialog channel or any other audible anomalies.

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Commentary with David Cronenberg – David Cronenberg is a very interesting guy that doesn’t have too much trouble talking about his films. He occasionally falls into the trap of narrating and there are a few quiet moments, but overall a very interesting commentary. Cronenberg discusses everything from the film’s production, the acting, up through the thematic element. I haven’t listened to a Cronenberg commentary before, but I may have to dig up my old DVDs and give them a spin.
Acts of Violence (1 Hr. 6 Mins.) – This is an interesting feature. It breaks up the different acts of violence in the film and allows you to view a little analysis/documentary about each scene. You can also utilize a play all feature and have the sequence play as more of an all-encompassing behind-the-scenes documentary. There’s a lot of interviews edited together with on-set footage. As a big fan of the movie and Cronenberg, I found this all to be very interesting. It’s a very intricate look at the film’s production.
Scene 44 (Deleted Scene) (2:46) – An interesting look deleted scene that was finished for the DVD (almost reminiscent of the Star Wars prequel DVDs). You have the option to listen to a commentary from Cronenberg over the scene where he discusses reasons for dropping it and his acceptance of special features on DVD.
The Unmaking of Scene 44 (7:04) – A more detailed look at the previous deleted scene made up of on-set footage and interviews.
Violence’s History: United States Version vs. International Version (1:23) – A very brief look at the differences (2 very small changes) between the US (R-Rated) and International releases of the film.
Too Commercial for Cannes (8:59) – This featurette looks at A History of Violence’s appearance at the Cannes Film Festival.

The DVD also features some trailers of other New Line films.

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In Closing…
People can talk about the Oscar controversy between Crash and Brokeback Mountain, but A History of Violence is the best film that came out of 2005. It marks an absolute return to brilliance for David Cronenberg. With the extensive extras and solid DVD presentation, any casual fan of the film should pick this one up. I’m happy to say that of all the films I’ve reviewed here at the HTF, A History of Violence is the first that I can highly recommend.

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Matt Stone
14 March, 2006
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#2 of 65 OFFLINE   MatS



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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:17 PM

'history' not future
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didn't get a chance to see this at the cinema
I am looking forward to viewing it at home, as positive as your review is I think I might just rent instead of a blind buy

#3 of 65 OFFLINE   Matt Stone

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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:41 PM

Curse my lackluster proofreading skill! Posted Image
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#4 of 65 OFFLINE   MatS



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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:45 PM

you're gonna hate me but......
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#5 of 65 OFFLINE   Matt Stone

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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:47 PM

We can blame that second one on lack of sleep. Hehehe Posted Image

...wow, I can't believe I screwed that one up twice.
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#6 of 65 OFFLINE   George_W_K



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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:49 PM

Shouldn't it be 2005 ?

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#7 of 65 OFFLINE   TravisR


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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:50 PM

Now that you've corrected your dates... Posted Image
I can say that I completely agree with that. It's definitely not a movie that everyone will enjoy but I thought it was great. Cronenberg's last few movies haven't lived up to some of his past glories (like Videodrome or The Fly or Dead Ringers) but this was a return to form for him.

The extras on the disc are pretty nice as well.

#8 of 65 OFFLINE   George_W_K



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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:50 PM

Nevermind, you guys posted as I was reading the review!Posted Image

I enjoyed this film a lot, even though I was expecting something a little different. I'm happy with the purchase.

#9 of 65 OFFLINE   Matt Stone

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Posted March 14 2006 - 03:57 PM

I think this was the first time a thread has been completely derailed by it's initial post Posted Image
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#10 of 65 OFFLINE   Elijah Sullivan

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Posted March 14 2006 - 06:41 PM

Typo aside, I agree with Matt's closing statement. It definately isn't everyone's taste so far as enjoyment goes, but in terms of overall quality and artistic worth, it's unrivaled by anything I saw in 2005 - except maybe The New World, which is even less consistantly approved.

Hopefully both these films will be better appreciated in later years. Having lost to Crash will become a household joke for both titles.

#11 of 65 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted March 14 2006 - 09:24 PM

I'll repeat the comments I made in another thread. I bought this DVD blindly based upon Oscar buzz. Popped it in the other day and was blown away! Though there are a lot of holes in the story and the way characters realistically react, I thought that on sheer entertainment value, this is a highly satisfying film. I agree with Matt that everyone should do whatever they can to get a hold of this film and watch it. I really think that it's probably the best "popcorn film" out there right now. And William Hurt....his best performance EVER!


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#12 of 65 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted March 14 2006 - 09:45 PM

Really great movie as Viggo carries this one.

I agree that William Hurt is absolutely riveting
as his brother.

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#13 of 65 OFFLINE   Sam Davatchi

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Posted March 14 2006 - 11:52 PM

Thanks for the spoiler!

#14 of 65 OFFLINE   Brett_M



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Posted March 15 2006 - 01:54 AM

Another typo: Blue Velevet lol Great review and I wholeheartedly agree. I saw it twice theatrically. I thought Viggo Mortensen was a fine actor before I saw AHOV. Then I saw this film a second time -- he is brilliant. If you didn't like it the first time, give it another try. The extras are quite good for a single disc. I watched all of them last night. I'll watch the film tonight. A worthy edition to any collection and an easy blind buy for Cronenberg/Mortensen/Harris/Hurt fans. ROBBED AT OSCAR TIME. DESERVED MANY MORE NODS, imho.
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#15 of 65 OFFLINE   Adam_S



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Posted March 15 2006 - 04:46 AM

I agree, I saw this last night and was blown away, made me completely revise my top ten of 2005. So what other films are your best of 05 Matt? I don't think the violence was a 'crazy level of gore,' though, in fact I felt it was pretty restrained, quick shots with blood and the camera doesn't hold back from glancing at what happens after a gun shot, or a nose punch. The fighting is really street, dirty, quick and brutal, and mostly close. This is not elegant and civilized slaughter of orcs, it's random and clumsy and nasty. I loved it! You didn't really mention Tom's family, how his son and wife are affected by violence and how it changes their relationship to him. I love how the threads of family weave in and out through this film, punctuated and emphasized by moments of intense violence, as though sealing them together. If I had one criticism of the film, its that kids with such a solid family in that part of the country are rarely as bitter and cynical as the son is when he's with his girl friend. The bitter cynical ones tend to hate their family and dislike everyone in it, which isn't true. If he was just bitter and cynical against the alpha male bullshit he gets from the school star athlete, that's one thing, but it was directed at middle-class life in general, which I felt was the one false character note in an otherwise flawless film. Adam

#16 of 65 OFFLINE   Jeff Swindoll

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Posted March 15 2006 - 04:57 AM

Well, I was a bit confused since the intro to the DVD's menu almost makes you think that the movie has started already Posted Image.

I'm gonna finish watching it tonight.

Might need to go out and buy the wife a cheerleader outfit.......... :b
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#17 of 65 OFFLINE   Matt Stone

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Posted March 15 2006 - 05:04 AM

I had a hard time picking a cohesive top ten this year, so for the time being I haven't really chosen anything. I'll post something when I have it.
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#18 of 65 OFFLINE   Holadem


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Posted March 15 2006 - 06:02 AM

Same here, after 40 or so screenings. Pretty weird. -- H

#19 of 65 OFFLINE   Mike.P


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Posted March 15 2006 - 08:11 PM

Easily my number one of 2005 - with Sin City in close second. How this got so few nods is beyond me... Viggo is the man.

#20 of 65 OFFLINE   DanFe


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Posted March 15 2006 - 08:52 PM

I guess I'm the only one who didn't care much for it. Rented it last night and the violence in many ways seems gratuitous and unnecessary. I also found the Howard Shore music somewhat jarring because it sounded like he was trying to imitate his scores from LOTR.

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