History of Violence opens in a idyllic small town, where the local sheriff eats at the town diner. Here works Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), your average father and husband, living inside a home with a white picket fence.
It is perfect, comfortable, and familiar. The setting is brilliant, drawing the audience into a pristine family, and a happily married couple.
The turn History of Violence takes isn’t a surprise. Whether you’ve seen the trailer or read the back of the case, there wouldn’t be a movie if Tom didn’t make a drastic transformation. The movie is a hard sell if you don’t let the audience in on the secret.
Still, the drastic shift shatters the picture, drawing on a darker side of its characters. With the exception of their little girl, the entire Stall family has a darker side, an inner anger they probably were unaware of until Tom is forced to defend himself in a robbery. This incident, in which he kills two men, is the breaking point.
Tom’s darker side comes through when his son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is suspended from school for fighting. When Jack becomes rebellious, Tom slaps him in the face, an action obviously not considered normal to the household.
Ed Harris has a small role as a mobster with a damaged eye, nearly ripped out by Tom in a previous fight. Harris and his small two-man gang seem like they’ll be the core antagonist, but are pulled from the story to let a brief moment of family drama play through. It’s better for the film, which could have easily succumbed to the standard thriller mantra of a house assault where Tom becomes the hero, saving the day and his family.
However, without that, the ending lacks a huge twist, something forceful. Instead, Tom arrives home from an unexplained absence (shown to the audience). The family shares awkward stares without saying a word, and again, his young daughter is the only one who makes any gesture. She’s the only innocent one in the group.
It is an ambiguous ending, although not to the extent that it requires hours of analyzing to figure out. Each character has experienced their flaws in some way, and are unsure about what else Tom could bring out in them. Maybe they see an odd attachment to the violence, or would rather push it into the past and live a normal life. A little clarity could not have hurt, but it is clear enough that any discussion leads to a similar conclusion: the family is staying together.
Completely botched is the only means of describing this awful Blu-ray transfer. DNR has been vigorously applied, giving faces a digitally processed, waxy, and in no way natural look. Detail smears across the actor’s faces as they move. Flesh tones are orange and garish. Edge enhancement is thick throughout.
Aliasing and flickering are a regular problem, from the backstop at the softball game to the couch in the Stall home. Black levels are fine, and contrast is bright, but this digitally altered mess is inexcusable.
A TrueHD mix is fairly straightforward, set mostly in the front channels. Gunfire is loud and crisp, although lacking in the low end. Dialogue is well mixed, with whispers clearly defined and audible. The rear channels have little or nothing to do.
Director David Cronenberg delivers a commentary, which continues over a deleted scene. That same scene has its own separate featurette entitled Unmasking Scene 44 that runs seven minutes, detailing a surprisingly complex effects sequence. Too Commercial for Cannes is a fine look at the film’s festival premiere with Cronenberg acting snobbish.
Violence’s History shows two edits required by the MPAA for the R rating, both which should have been unnecessary. Acts of Violence is an extensive look at multiple scenes from the film, using a spectacular array of interviews and set footage. This runs together at over an hour, and is well worth the time.