Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A History of Violence

I don't watch many movies. Almost none, in fact. On one hand, I wear that distinction with pride; half convincing myself that I'm saving myself untold wasted hours of terrible pop-culture drivel. On the other hand, when I do manage to see a great film that really gets into my brain, I get a glimpse of how much I'm missing and wonder why I don't watch a few each week. I also fall into the trap of assuming that it was just about the best one ever made.

Myron set up the projector in his living room last night and invited me over for a late-night movie session. After everyone else was asleep, we cracked a couple of beers and some zotes, then settled in for A History of Violence.

I'm not even sure why I'm writing this, because I'd hesitate to recommend this film to anyone -- I found it psychologically difficult to watch. The juxtaposition and intermingling of quiet, small-town life and bloody violence shocked my mental systems, and not in a pleasant way. It raises more questions than it answers, and all reach in to what we believe about ourselves: when is violence justified, how do we really become who we are, what holds families together under extreme pressure, do nice guys really finish last?

There are a few weak moments early on, and some of the scenarios don't seem entirely plausible, but these shortcomings don't at all dull the impact of the whole package. As Ebert says, "This is not a movie about plot, but about character." And the characters are fantastic, both in how the roles are written and how they are played.

William Hurt and Ed Harris portray their mob heavies with hilarious menace, and I couldn't take my eyes off of them. I actually loved most of the supporting cast, but Viggo Mortenson could have almost carried the whole thing by himself. As great as he was as Aragorn, there's more depth in the inner conflict here, and even more tension between his own desires and history's intrusions into his present life.

So, the best movie ever? Probably not, but it will likely stick in my head for a while and keep me thinking about choices, family and destiny. And it already makes me want to see more great films. What more could you ask from an hour and a half of entertainment?

10 comments:

Nicole said...

Jer,
If you want to see another phenomenal movie, I would recommend "Tsotsi" and Shane recommends "City of God". They're both foreign films and quite brutal in terms of the content, but don't let that dissuade you. I guarantee you it will not waste your time in the "Mr.and Mrs. Smith" kind of way.
Nicole

Ang said...

Steve was really keen on that one too Jer, and reading Ebert's comment helps me appreciate it more. I have to somehow get you and Tannis to watch "In America". It's about a young immigrating irish family that can only afford to live in this crazy slum building in NYC. It speaks to me in so many ways, and would compliment our chat about childhoods. I actually regulary wonder if you've rented it yet and something tells me you have not. The 2 daughters in the film remind me of emily and what i think i know about your girls-intrigued?

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the recommendations, both of you. Much appreciated. I'll put them on my must-see list for the winter, when we usually see a few more.

Heather said...

Hmmmmm... when I first saw History of Violence advertised on TV I wanted to see it. Then I convinced myself (and Ryan probably influenced me too) that it would be just another bloody action flick with a weak story line, and see-through plot. However, you've given it enough props that I might twist his arm into renting it next time 'round.

Jeremy said...

Like I said, I'm not sure I really recommend it...but it's well done and really makes you think.

Garth said...

I haven't seen the movie either but am curious. I use a few movies for my Interpersonal Processes class that capture conflict, racism, ethics - one movie that I will recommend is Crash - it definitely is dark in its content but a powerful movie...I can also vouch for Tsotsi (although not amazing in its cinemaphotography) the story is unique...

Lesa said...

I love films so much that I even appreciate bad ones, including Mr and Mrs Smith.

Cinematography is chock full of goodness: brilliant writing and gorgeous photographs and epic music, oh yes and then there are the actors. MMmmmmm mmmmm mmmm, just can't get enough!

I like the description of what you saw. Please watch more films and share every one of them with us like you did with History of Violence!

Jeremy said...

Garth, let me know what you think of it if you do end up seeing it -- I'd be curious to hear your take on it. Which Crash are you recommending? Cronenberg's, or the more recent one?

Jeremy said...

Thx for the encouragement, Lesa. I didn't realize you were a movie junkie -- where are the film reviews on your blog? Get on it!
: )

Garth said...

The more recent one - http://www.crashfilm.com/ - I picked it up used after renting it!