A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg). 96 minutes. Opens Friday (September 23). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Buzz is, with its big stars, American funding, gangster theme and comic-book origins, A History Of Violence is David Cronenberg 's most mainstream picture to date. Maybe.
It's certainly no Crash. But it's only mainstream the way Fargo was - at least as much a sidelong comment on popular tastes as a sop to them. What could easily in lesser hands be adrenal-candy action pap becomes instead a study in paranoia studded with indigestible nuggets of sex and gore. It explores Cronenberg's home turf of radical doubt with an underlying stratum of bloody-mindedness.
Star Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, an upstanding small-town small businessman, complete with hot wife (Maria Bello) and darling kids. When a slightly too heroic response to an armed robbery leads to a flurry of media attention, he's contacted by gangsters who believe he's a thug gone into hiding. Suspicion and violence ensue, and Stall's perfect family starts to splinter.
Mortensen's performance is surprising; he undercuts his trademark rugged nobility with a subtle manic edge that feeds the film's mood of imminent mayhem without prematurely resolving its ambiguity. But the best moments come near the end, when a louche, languid William Hurt appears briefly as the most enjoyable gangster since Goodfellas.