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FALL SNEAKS | A History of Violence

Nothing cartoonish about it

September 11, 2005|Chris Lee

WHEN it came time for David Cronenberg to choose how much violence to depict in his bloody art-house thriller "A History of Violence," the director settled upon what he terms a "practical approach": Less is more.

"It could not be balletic or slow-motion beautiful, and it could not feel choreographed," Cronenberg reasoned. "It would be nasty, brutish and short -- which is what the philosopher Hobbes said about life in general."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 13, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
"History of Violence" -- Two release dates for the film "A History of Violence" were given in a short story and caption in the Fall Movie Sneaks in Sunday's Calendar section. The film opens in some markets, including Los Angeles, on Friday and expands nationwide on Sept. 30.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 18, 2005 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
"History of Violence" dates -- Two release dates for the film "A History of Violence" were given last Sunday in a story and caption. The film opens in some markets, including Los Angeles, on Friday and expands nationwide Sept. 30.

In the film, which opens in Los Angeles Sept. 30, small-town diner owner Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) kills two wanted murderers in self-defense. He becomes a local hero but gets embroiled in a high-stakes case of mistaken identity when big-city gangsters played by Ed Harris and William Hurt come looking for him. After Stall's family is threatened, the bodies start to pile up.

"For the characters, the violence is functional, necessary, justified," Cronenberg said.

To mitigate any perception of violence for violence's sake, the Canadian director, whose films often showcase sci-fi gore but seldom feature physical combat, chose to bookend each of "Violence's" fight sequences with lingering close-ups of their grisly human toll -- special emphasis given to smashed-in faces, bullet-riven torsos and coagulating blood.

"Most action pictures want you to be exhilarated; they don't want you to be disturbed," the director said. "They don't want to show you the consequences of action in terms of real death."

The aftermath imagery serves as a kind of aesthetic counterpoint to the gratuitous shootouts and punch-ups employed by the "Die Hard" school of action moviemaking.

Cronenberg added, "From what I've seen in test screenings so far, the audience will applaud and cheer -- and then it's all shut off like a tap when you cut to those shots showing what the results of violence are."

Although "Violence's" script was adapted from a graphic novel of the same name by screenwriter Josh Olson, Cronenberg points out that his version significantly departs from the source material. He also took pains to distance the project from another graphic novel's cartoonishly violent big-screen translation.

"It couldn't be more different from 'Sin City,' " the director said. "This is not an action movie."

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