A History of Violence

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Upon further review, leaving "A History of Violence" off of my list of 2005's best movies was a large mistake. Like nearly every David Cronenberg film, "Violence" improves with every subsequent viewing, going beyond its solid thriller exterior to reveal a multi-layered meditation on American masculinity, family secrets and, most importantly, the power of violence to shape our past and present.

Viggo Mortensen, in a performance whose textures are unveiled only gradually, plays Tom. He owns a perfect diner in a perfect small town. He loves his wife (Maria Bello, also perfect), his adorable daughter and his son. That's all on the surface. The truth about Tom is only exposed after an incident of horrible brutality turns him into a media darling and attracts the attention of some nasty mobsters, led by the hideously scarred Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris). Tom comes to realize that the only way he'll be able to stop this new cycle of crime is to face his own history.

Having "Violence" handy in your DVD collection allows easy access to William Hurt's work as Richie, a performance that lasts fewer than 10 minutes and yet manages to be hammy and subtle at the same time. His darkly comic menace seems a bit out-of-place in the film at large, but if you zip over to his scene, it's a marvel. There's also ample time to appreciate the contributions by frequent Cronenberg collaborators like cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, composer Howard Shore and production designer Carol Spier. The reason why no shot feels wasted and no moment seems incidental is that the director has assembled a reliable team that he has complete confidence in.

The idea of the Cronenberg family is central to one of the DVD's best bonus features, the thorough "Acts of Violence," an hour-plus doc that nicely balances thematic discussion of the film's meanings, as well as more nuts-and-bolts looks at the filmmaker's creative process. Aspiring directors looking for instruction on how to capture rough cinematic sex need look no further and for viewers confused by Hurt's Philly accent, the Oscar-winner offers a compelling explanation. The doc is occasionally serious, but it also delves into loopy on-set traditions like Fish Friday, as well as the production's 2004 mock election.

The disc only offers one deleted bit, the notorious "Scene 44," a dream sequence involving Harris, Mortensen and a sucking chest wound that Cronenberg deemed to self-reflexive for its own good. Although the scene was cut, it was so complicated that there's even a behind-the-scenes featurette on its effects. The package also includes a very brief explanation for the different cuts of the film in Europe and North America, as well as a rough documentary about Cronenberg's experience taking "Violence" to Cannes.

Although the bonuses are very complete and efficient in delivering background for the film, the director's commentary is rarely redundant. One of my personal favorite commentators, Cronenberg is typically erudite and humorous, avoiding dead air and providing ample insight.

STUDIO: New Line Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: March 14
RATING: R
PRICE: $28.98
TIME: 99 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: Spanish subtitles; director's commentary; deletedscene; "Acts of Violence" documentary; "Too Commercial for Cannes" featurette.
INTERNET SITE: AHistoryofViolence.com

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