Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I miss the tooth shooter.

I've been holding off on writing about David Cronenberg's A History of Violence for a week and a half now. I think it's largely due to my frustrating ambivalence towards the film and I'm not sure how to square that against all the roaringly positive buzz.

It's not like I hate the film; It's so aesthetically sophisticated and filled with moments of greatness that I can't just dismiss it. That said, I find some of it so completely slapdash and jarring that I can't jump on board with the raves.

First, what I like:
  • The violent sequences are handled perfectly. There's a gravity to them, but there's just enough Cronenbergian perversion. The camera lingers maybe just a second or two too long on the gore, rubbing our noses in it.

  • There are two sex scenes that seem entirely right to me. One is fairly innocuous, but it's treated bluntly and honestly, which is something you don't see often in commercial filmmaking. The other is raw and violent and painful, but no less truthful.

  • Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, and (to a lesser degree) Maria Bello are excellent.

  • Little directorial things: the wiiiiiide composition. The fluidity of camera movements. That Cronenberg doesn't cheat the night scenes, he shoots them dark, dark, dark. (No glowing-blue cheats.)

As for what I didn't like... I guess I'd say the Rockwell setting/device. Obviously I understand what Cronenberg is doing by setting it in a Gee Golly Indiana town, but it felt less than organic and entirely smug. The obvious comparison is to Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet's Lumberton, but Lynch heightens everything to almost parody level and then commits entirely to the convention. In Violence, it seemed like Cronenberg knew he wanted to work with something similar, but much of it was tepid, as if he wasn't entirely sure of the choice. Other times it was so over-the-top and insincere that it yanked me entirely out of the film. (I'm thinking of the bedside meeting with Dad and Son and little JonBenet to discuss the reality of monsters and the entirety of the Son's subplot.) My other big problem was the shift to Philadelphia. (Yes, that includes William Hurt in all his scene chewing glory.) It was a dramatic fizzle, where my problems with the film were cemented. The drama was building to that?

What kills me about all of this is that I'm a champion of Cronenberg's body of work... I love nothing more than sitting an unsuspecting friend down and popping eXistenZ or Videodrome or Dead Ringers on. Finally, the man gets universal acclaim and his film is the talked-about film of the fall, and I'm outside looking in. I guess I can always take comfort in the mutant amphibian lunch special and sexy leg wounds.


At 10:19 AM, Blogger girish said...

Hey Ben--Though I disagree with you about this film :-), I really liked your post about it. (It was really cool and personal and fun to read.)

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Ben said...

Girish, when I see your enthusiasm (and every other movie goer in the world) for the film, I really think I need to give the film another go 'round. Maybe the Rockwellian tone won't be as distracting to me. Shrug.

Oh and did you download Elvis Mitchell's chat with Cronie? It's availabe on iTunes and it's excellent.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger girish said...

Ben--No, I missed that. Thanks.(Heading to iTunes..)

At 11:19 PM, Blogger AAP said...

I agree with everything you have said. The second half is not as good. The scariest and the most effective moments in the film was this feeling of being bullied. So when Joe becomes Joe again, a bully, all that tension, that drama, are lost.

If I wrote this, Tom is innocent, people are mistaken. But he is helpless, he fights only in desperation which is what usually destroys what is "bad."

At 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're right on track and not many people are willing to admit that they share your views. lost strip is an AWESOME place to discuss LOST.


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