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Maria Bello comforts Viggo in the
knowledge that his looks should get
him parts in "at least" 3 more movies,
before people realize he has no talent
as an actor.

A History of Violence
(Hollywood remake or sequel, or film based on a comic book, book, play or video game # 50, since January 1st, 2005. Click for full list of Hollywood's lack of original ideas.)
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Ladies and gentlemen, the emperor is wearing no clothes.  I held off on writing this review until I could watch the film for a second time, to see if there was something that I missed.  The artsy crowd praised it like it was the second coming of The Deer Hunter.  The majority of critics, usually so quick to chastise a movie for having a few plot holes seemed to overlook the fact that A History of Violence doesn't even have a plot. 

I'm usually one to enjoy an intriguing story that's not all wrapped up with a tidy bow.  It's great to have a movie make you think, rather than spell everything out for you.  On the other hand, a movie should tell some sort of story.  You'll leave A History of Violence knowing as much about the film as you did going in.  What history?  Why?  There are dozens upon dozens of questions asked and almost no answers given. 

The film centers on Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) and his family.  Tom runs a popular diner and lives a simple life.  At least until two bumbling MacGuffins hold the place up and Tom comes to the rescue, killing both men.  The press takes over as the film's MacGuffin and follows Tom everywhere.  Filming him and asking questions.  The man is a local hero.

But there's more than the press keeping an eye on Tom.  There's Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), a mobster who saw Tom on the news and came into town looking for revenge.  Revenge for what?  Tom, under the name of Joey, supposedly destroyed Carl's eye using barbed wire.  That Joey was a crazy fucker, we're told.  Tom denies ever being Joey and goes on with his family life. 

Things are settling down until Carl brings a posse to kill poor Tom.  Tom turns into Rambo on speed and takes them all down.  The press, no longer needed to move the plot forward, completely ignore the incident, even though they were wild about him killing two petty thugs in his diner days earlier.  As a matter of fact, we never see or hear from the press again. 

Tom's son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is the picked on nerd with the witty sense of humor and Goth girlfriend; both from the John Hughes' school of character development.  Jack's being harassed by the typical John Hughes' bully and his silent cronies.  He finally loses it and sends the bully to the hospital.  I guess violence runs in the family.  But why?  How is Tom/Joey connected to the mafia and why is his mild-mannered son suddenly flying off the handle? 

Don't expect answers.  In the worst "plot" twist of them all, Tom/Joey has a brother named Richie (William Hurt).  Richie insists on seeing Tom/Joey.  They meet and Richie says that Tom/Joey has been nothing but trouble from day one.  Richie said he tried to strangle Tom/Joey in his crib the first day he saw him.  Richie's pissed at Tom/Joey for leaving him to clean up the mess that we're never told about, other than Fogarty got cut with barbed wire.  Why?  Why ask why?  This film could be a Budweiser commercial (instead it shills for Nike and Honey Bunches of Oats). 

Richie has one of his goons try to strangle Tom/Joey (how about just shooting the guy?), for that thing Tom/Joey did that we never hear about.  Tom/Joey goes back into Rambo mode and leaves everyone but one on the floor in a pool of blood.  His brother is left standing in front on Tom/Rambo/Joey.  Tom/Joey is shot, but it doesn't seem to faze him.  I'll let you see what doesn't happen next.  Not that I'm worried about giving away spoilers, being that there's nothing to spoil in this film. 

Josh Olson should have studied a history of screenwriting before attempting to adapt A History of Violence.  Maybe then this wouldn't have been one of the most aimless, derivative films to ever be overrated.  He paints characters in such broad strokes, they make the heroes in Four Brothers look multi-faceted in comparison.  The only character who isn't entirely black and white is Tom/Joey, but only because his motives are never explored and the audience isn't clued into who he is as a character.  The one character not coming off as a one-dimensional cartoon is Maria Bello's.  Viggo Mortensen is as flat as Steven Seagal, which isn't surprising, being that A History of Violence is the kind of movie Steve would have felt right at home in.

I think I remember Viggo actually doing some acting in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Not memorable acting, but passable.  Here he's stone-cold.  All the actors in the film, Maria Bello aside, show less range than usual.  I'll point the finger at David Cronenberg for that one.  Cronenberg rarely directs a great performance, and he's clearly out of his element trying to direct a straight-forward action movie based on a comic book. 

The words "pointless" and "complex" have become interchangeable with the crowd singing this film's praises.  A few tweaks here and there and this could have been a really good movie.  Why not have some of those pesky journalists looking into the past life of "Tom Stall?"  While doing so, they could give the audience a little insight into the man. 

As the movie is written, all we know about Tom Stall is that he may have been one of the nuttiest members of the mafia to ever live.  What mafia?  Who knows.  He may have multiple-personality disorder.  Or he may not.  We know he likes impromptu fucking on staircases with a wife that looks like she's being raped.  And he's one hell of a killer. 

It took me two times to realize how bad this movie was.  The first time, I found it slightly compelling.  I couldn't wait to find out where it was headed.  When it went no where -- and I do mean no where -- I was disappointed.  The second time I really saw it for what it was:  A piece of violent pornography gussied up as art.  Commonplace dialogue fills up the spaces between Tom/Joey beating people to a pulp.  A couple of sex scenes fill up the spaces where screenwriter Josh Olson ran out of commonplace dialogue. 

A History of Violence is a 10-minute short padded out to a 90 minute feature film.  At 10 minutes it would be the kind of movie to win prestigious awards at college film-festivals, where people are still too self-absorbed to know any better.  Why do some of the most respected film critics out there praise the movie?  Its complete lack of story must have them convinced that it's something "deep." 

Who points it out when the Emperor is wearing no clothing?  I guess in this case, me.  A History of Violence is an education in bad filmmaking.  It's sad that all Hollywood has to do to cater to the upper-crust yuppies is release a film that has the appearance of being "different."  The movie is a novelty and in 10 years it will be all but forgotten.

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