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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, the motion picture

I watched David Cronenberg's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE the other day. I had read the comic book by John Wagner and Vince Locke that it was "based" on a while back, posted some thoughts about it here. Short form was that I thought the book had a decent enough story with some interesting twists, but was more worth reading as a showcase for some spectacular artwork from Locke than anything else. I wasn't that eager to see the movie, since I knew it changed a lot, and I'm not a huge Cronenberg fan (couldn't get through CRASH or NAKED LUNCH, didn't much like EXISTENZ. THE FLY was pretty good, though, and I remember being a little freaked by SCANNERS as a teenager), but some people I tend to listen to did say some good things about it, and I was able to borrow a copy for free.

I really didn't get it. Cronenberg's directing skills I can't question, the movie looks very nice, and the actors are mostly good, but for the most part the film left me cold. There were a few scenes were it came alive, and it took too long to get to the first one, generally the action bits (the diner scene, the high school fight) but other than that it felt like watching a tv-movie with an absurdly over-qualified director and cast. It also all seemed a bit tame for a movie by Cronenberg with the word "violence" right there in the title. Why didn't he pull the trigger and show the kid being shot in the opening scene?

What really gets me is that I think the original story, for all its flaws, would have made a far better movie in almost every respects, and even a better Cronenberg movie if he was willing to go all the way. Instead this just borrows the title, the basic set-piece of the diner scene and set-up about a small-town diner owner with a secret past and parts of the later farmhouse confrontation. The story that was put in place of the original is inferior in almost every respect, and doesn't even hang logically in the end. Why even bother to option and adapt a story if you have so little interest in the original?

Well, such things remain a mystery to me, and I'm not sure why this movie got as much praise as it did. I'll stick with the book in the future.

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