STUDIO: New Line
MSRP: $28.99
Deleted scene

The Pitch

“Middle-American Aragorn is of two minds!”

The Humans

Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Maria Bello, Ashton Holmes, William Hurt, several eventual corpses

The Nutshell

Tom Stall (the Vig) owns and operates a diner in a tiny idyllic Indiana town. He’s a loving dad with a young daughter, a bullied teen son (Holmes) and a modestly attractive wife ( Bello). Superficially it’s a mundane existence (enlivened by some passionate 69ing with his spouse), at least until a pair of roving killers enters Tom’s establishment and harasses the hired help. One swift burst of violence later, Tom is a local hero whose face is all over the news for his inadvertent vigilantism.

Not long after comes the arrival of a trio of mob thugs, led by the reptilian one-eyed Fogerty (Harris, at his creepy best), who is convinced Tom is actually a former Philly gangster named Joey Cusack. Fogerty’s unnerving insistence ultimately leads to a confrontation at Tom’s home, which he efficiently handles by killing the hell out of the interlopers while his family watches. The revelation of his true nature shatters the status quo, and Tom determines that the only way to resolve the matter is to confront his past (which may or may not require savagely slaughtering a whole bunch of other people).

With the last of his LOTR cash spent on poetry, art supplies and exotic body oils, Mortensen and his clan could only afford a studio apartment. But they were still, y’know, happy.

The Lowdown

Director David Cronenberg’s masterful, deceptively minimalist style, with its deliberate composition and pacing and short-sharp-shock punctuations of bloodshed, keep things off-balance throughout A History of Violence even as the dark secrets we suspected are slowly uncovered. His cast is impeccable (with the exception of the girl playing the young daughter, who seems uncomfortable on camera), from Mortensen’s sorrowful countenance to Harris’ menacing scar-faced mobster to Bello’s conflicted response to her husband’s sudden brutality.

A History of Violence is like the anti-Mr. & Mrs. Smith (reviewed HERE) — behind its façade of implacable revenge is a relationship drama predicated on the concept of marital trust. But it’s also a David Cronenberg film, and although it’s slightly more accessible than much of his grisly oeuvre, it is also deadly serious and full of subtext and occasionally ghastly. Cronenberg and writer Josh Olsen stripmine the graphic novel source material to its essence, a dark tale of duality that effectively illustrates the fascination and proliferation, repugnance and acceptance of violence.

"Wow… so you guys really think American Yakuza is my best work?"

The Package

The centerpiece of the bonus features is “Acts of Violence”, an hour-long documentary that covers every filmmaking aspect and demonstrates both Cronenberg’s intriguing creative process and his infectious affection for his cast and crew — yes, the man whose filmography helped define the term “body horror”, the guy who sought to annihilate every living thing in Midian, treats everyone involved in his film productions like beloved members of an extended family. Frankly, it’s the standard that other documentary featurettes should aspire to (rather than the typical 10-minute “wanking” clips where everyone just repeats how superb the movie will be and how wonderful the cast and crew is to work with).

Viggo knew that no matter where he went, how hard he ran, and regardless of restraining orders, eventually Stuart Townsend would find him, and he would most assuredly be furious.

Cronenberg goes solo on a wonderful commentary track, and with his soothing melancholy voice goes into remarkable detail on technical aspects while also offering anecdotes and candid insight into the general process. As a testament to his prowess, there’s only a single deleted scene (one which, while wisely cut from the film, is certainly worth seeing), accompanied by a brief featurette that delineates its making. There’s also a side-by-side comparison of two scenes showing the minor differences between the American and international cut (extra blood, louder bone-snapping), and Cronenberg’s own filmed account of the movie’s Cannes premiere. The movie’s presentation looks and sounds phenomenal, and while I hate the cheesy, misleading Van Damme-ish cover, I acknowledge that it’s a difficult film to market in a single image. A comprehensive release, all things considered.

9 out of 10