A History of Violence (2005)
Most movies are fairly clear on whether they try to emulate realism or take a more or less fantastical approach to its material. Veteran filmmaker David Cronenberg's latest outing A History of Violence embarks on a far more challenging path, opting for a road somewhere in between and taking us on a symbolic and historical journey into both sides of Americanism. His setting is classic American small-town life on one hand and classic American mafia on the other. And the result is a powerful, sublime, thought-provoking and insightful film.
Cronenberg directs with a wonderful poetic realism; his statements are low-key and bold at the same time, and he manages to take a series of well-known types and settings and highlight them from a new angle. The cast is great with two particularly effective character-relations: (1) Viggo Mortensen/Maria Bello as the man and wife, and (2) Viggo Mortensen/William Hurt as the two brothers.
The chemistry and interaction between the former two is sparkling. They conjure (well assisted by Cronenberg's pre-occupation and experience with the subject matter) two of the hottest and most innovative sex-scenes I've ever seen in film, and manage to pin-down the implicit and often wordless arguments of long-term partners. The way their relationship is projected shows how love sometimes can be both unhealthy and irrational but still prevail.
A final treat here is the introduction of William Hurt and the brief scenes he shares with Mortensen. Hurt, in the 1980s hailed as one of the greatest talents in Hollywood, shows his impressive versatility and forceful acting in a magnificent little part. In many ways, he sums up what Cronenberg's film is about and provides the director with the appropriate ammunition to close his film. A film that might well be an outsider on Oscar night.