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Heroes of the Zeroes: A History of Violence

by on May 14, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“A History of Violence”
Rated R
2005

David Cronenberg’s fearless, intelligent dissections of the capacity for sex and violence are hard to take seriously when partnered with mind-controlling TV programs, people getting freaky in car wrecks or guns made of bones.

Stripped of cartoonish impulses, “A History of Violence” explosively fired into the heart of Cronenberg’s philosophical mind-ticklers about reality and perception.

Viggo Mortensen plays Tom, a small-town restaurant owner who becomes a celebrity after killing two robbers. His sudden visibility brings out scores of threatening, unsavory thugs claiming Tom is actually a former mob kingpin.

“Violence” piles on claustrophobic discomfort of close-quarters confrontations and mounting dread at the madness to come. Perhaps for the first time in a Cronenberg film, the violence really shocks, all the way to a disquieting, believable ending.

Josh Olson’s Oscar-nominated screenplay certainly takes its share of turns, but it favors reactions, emotions and consequences over mere plotting. What Olson achieves feels like a domino effect of intimate destruction.

Impeccable acting runs across the board. Watch Mortensen’s eyes — aw-shucks disbelief one minute, slight shiftiness the next. As Tom’s wife, Maria Bello is a brave actress in a thankfully complex role. Ed Harris is perfect as a cool, collected, physically disfigured psychopath. And, in an Oscar-nominated role, William Hurt arrives in the third act to pose the film’s most integral, intriguing questions.

“Violence” chose silence in its conclusive calculation of bloodlust and demanded discussion as the end credits rolled. This time, that conversation didn’t include the silly parts Cronenberg could’ve left out.

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