A masterpiece of indirection and pure visceral thrills, David Cronenberg's
latest mindblower is the feel-good, feel-bad movie of the year.
The story of a seemingly average American family almost undone by
cataclysmic violence, the film takes place in a surreal and mercilessly
brutal land, Anytown, U.S.A., that has been repeatedly soaked in
blood only to be repeatedly washed clean. The great kick of the
movie — or rather, its great kick in the gut — comes
from Mr. Cronenberg's refusal to let us indulge in movie violence
without paying a price. The man wants to make us suffer, exquisitely.
Mr. Cronenberg also wants us to have a good time, and it's this
tension between cinematic pain and pleasure that helps make "A
History of Violence" such a sensational moviegoing experience.
Loosely adapted by Josh Olson from the 1997 graphic novel by John
Wagner and Vince Locke, the film, which hinges on an upstanding
citizen and reluctant mystery man (brilliantly played by Viggo Mortensen),
takes it as an article of faith that we, the multiplex allegiant,
have been long-reared on the ways and means, giddyups and brutalizing
downs of the action movie. To which Mr. Cronenberg quietly says,
©Manohla Dargis, The New York Times