review for A History of Violence on AllMovie

A History of Violence (2005)
by Jason Buchanan review

David Cronenberg has always been a name closely associated with the horror genre, and even when his films don't overtly contain the elements generally associated with the critically maligned genre, they can be just as horrifying as any out-and-out fright flick. This bold but shockingly low-key thriller is without question one of the reigning body-horror master's most mainstream cinematic outings to date (no videotape-swallowing orifices or medieval-looking medical instruments here); however, the film's depiction of the vicious cyclical nature of violence is as horrific and challenging as anything in the veteran director's notoriously gruesome filmography. The effectiveness of violence in any film is directly tied to stylistic choices utilized to portray the violence onscreen, and few directors are more aware of this fact than Cronenberg. By contrasting the horrific and often graphic acts of violence committed by the characters in A History of Violence with quiet scenes at the family dinner table or tender moments between husband and wife, Cronenberg punctuates the destructive actions of his characters in a manner that is undeniably effective for those looking for something deeper than the average revenge tale -- showing a filmmaker still very much in command of his material. As the dire situation steadily elevates and the outwardly peaceful protagonist is forced to act out in the same manner as his tormentors, Cronenberg reveals the character's true nature while showing enough faith in his audience to let the situation unfold naturally. This narrative restraint shows a filmmaker whose dramatic strengths are growing with age rather than weakening (a sad problem that seems to plague many genre filmmakers of Cronenberg's generation). Even the lesser-drawn characters in A History of Violence seem to have an added dimension of motivation that ties into the theories of violence presented in the film, with the more prominent supporting players, including Ed Harris and William Hurt, turning in particularly effective performances. Though some viewers may find it difficult to connect with the archetypal characters in A History of Violence on an emotional level, the message regarding the inherently cyclical nature of violence is both effectively clear and viscerally presented, offering a testament to Cronenberg's continuing willingness to challenge his audience while simultaneously crafting a compelling mainstream thriller.