There are no spoilers here.
1. Nice that it's only about 90 minutes long. I always get antsy at the movies. 90 minutes is a typical length for a comedy, not a drama. So my question is: Was this a movie of atypical length? Was it a comedy? I was laughing anyway and so were some other people. The violent outbursts felt like very serious, stunning violence, but overall, it was comic, the way "Pulp Fiction" is comic. Yet there were no obvious laugh lines. It was a really interesting feeling of being appropriately affected by the danger and violence, but still finding it funny.
2. It has a dreamlike quality -- and begins with a child's nightmare (at least that's where I came in). No, there are no monsters. Light chases the monsters away. So the child is told. Yet the movie is quite underlit -- what diner has mood lighting? -- perhaps to signify that the tale to be told follows the logic of a dream: threatening characters show up in your ordinary life and you need to escape from them, in one scene after another, where very strange things happen, dragging you out of your normal life; troubling questions arise about your identity and the identity of others around you, as you try different ways to get back home, as you lose your grip on what your home is.
3. It was a low budget movie, I'm assuming. That may explain a lot of the low lighting. The point where I realized they really made this go without the money they needed: Two men enter what is supposed to be a very rich man's mansion and, when each of them steps on what is made to look like a solid marble threshold, it caves way down like a flimsy board.
4. Viggo Mortenson makes a great leading man. Much of the movie is watching his face. I enjoyed that.
5. Maria Bello is not a good actress. She's interesting to look at, but she can't do what is needed in a film like this. Cronenberg tried to cover for her inadequacies by having her do things like run out of the room and throw up off camera or bury her face in Mortenson's shoulder and cry. We'd watch more of him then, instead of her. And by the way, if there's one thing I would like to ban in movies, it's having a character express emotion by vomiting.
6. That was William Hurt? Wow, he got... less attractive.
I haven't read any reviews of this movie. I just saw Mortenson on Letterman and liked him and his clip, and I saw that the film got an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I guarantee that all six points above were written without reading a single review. Now, I'll read some reviews.
Here's a line from one of the less good reviews, by Stephen Witty:
"Violence" -- hailed in some quarters as [Cronenberg's] most "accessible" film -- is, sadly, his least interesting, settling for some genre setpieces and a pair of eccentric performances by villains Ed Harris and William Hurt. As a history of Cronenberg, it's a good introductory lecture, detailing his careful composition, mastery of unease and complicated thematic interests. As a Cronenberg film though, it's figuratively bloodless, without any real body to it at all.Fair enough.
From Kevin Turan:
It's a measure of Cronenberg's confidence in his material, his cast and his own skill that he purposely opens this ultimately compelling film with a glacially paced sequence of a pair of drifters checking out of a motel at a velocity that only Jim Jarmusch in full "Broken Flowers" mode could love.Hey, I missed a glacially paced sequence that opened the film. Was I really that late?
Matching her costar's level of commitment, Bello gives her most involving performance, supplying a level of emotional belief that is the film's secret weapon, holding it together no matter where it goes.Too many male reviewers forgive too much when they love the actress's looks. I give Turan a demerit.
The WaPo's Desmond Thomson:
"A History of Violence" forces us to confront our Pavlovian conditioning to violence, whether we are watching real military campaigns with living room detachment or whooping and hollering for fictional ones. It's not about popcorn heroism or the importance of protecting an increasingly troubled world against hostile invaders. It's just about why we're cheering.Generic, trite observation. How about a review of, you know, this movie?
Over at Entertainment Weekly, there's praise for the score, which reminds me to say I hated the score, and there's a discussion forum, where I read that audiences hated this movie. Hmm... I wonder why? Was it marketed as a mainstream film, but it's an art film. I don't know. As an art film, it's actually awfully B-movie-ish.