Tuesday, October 25, 2005

David Cronenberg disappoints

Purely by chance, I watched two David Cronenberg films last week. The first was 'Dead Ringers' on the little telly in my hotel room. I'd not seen it before and was captivated by Jeremy Irons's brilliant performance as identical twin brothers in a compelling and disturbing tale of obsession that ends in a descent into madness. The second was 'A History of Violence', currently on circuit.

I've not been to the cinema for months now and, until recently, I've not had ready access to a cinema. So, I jumped at the chance of going to 'the pictures' when J invited me along on Saturday.

'What are you going to see?' I asked.

'A History of Violence,' he said.

Although I don't go to the cinema as much as I used to, the intention to go is always there so I tend to keep abreast of what's on circuit and usually read the reviews even if I don't actually get to the cinema. But, as I've said before, the bit of rural Surrey that I spent over 6 weeks in felt a bit like Outer Mongolia. The shop was too far away for me to bother about getting the newspaper regularly and getting to a cinema would have been a major geographical expedition. Probably as a result of my not having ready access to a cinema and having had less access to the newspapers, I got out of the habit of knowing what's on.

'What's that all about?'

'It's a Cronenberg film about a guy who tries to escape his past,' said J.

'Great, I'll come along. Thanks.'

So, apart from knowing that it was a Cronenberg film, in itself quite a lot of information, I knew very little about the film I was about to watch. I reflected on that several times during the film - what a great, almost liberating feeling! Even where/if parts of the film happen predictably, watching something without having been influenced by friends' descriptions and opinions and newspaper reviews makes for an entirely different viewing experience. The story unfolds very much like a well-told story narrated by a friend as part of a conversation. Or, for those who can remember that far back, very much like being told a gripping story as a child. Slick modern marketing tries to entrap us into buying whatever commodity is being advertised, whether it be a film or a book. Watching a film in this way is a very unusual experience these days. Reading a book in such a way is almost unheard of since all modern books have enough cover copy to give you an idea as to what the book is all about.

Of course this rather novel way of watching a film doesn't make a mediocre film good. And 'A History of Violence' is not much more than a mediocre film. It's yet another adaptation of a graphic novel (Cronenberg does like the rest of them!) and, consequently, has high levels of graphic violence. Unlike Sin City (a beautifully crafted film that I loathed), it does not try to re-create the atmosphere of a graphic novel even though it's beautifully filmed. Which film isn't these days? It has a great cast (Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, William Hurt, etc) and the performances are uniformly good. I especially liked Hurt's comic portrayal as the ruthless gangster older brother and Ashton Holmes portrayed the only really sympathetic character as the teenage son. It's a good yarn and very well put-together. But the questions it raises about identity and society are very predictable and not worth dwelling on. Oh, and it's much too long.

I'll stop complaining now as it was enjoyable enough. Go see it and see what you think.


Blogger portuguesa nova said...

I semi-liked to it too purely because I didn't have to deal with the six months of nightmares that usually accompany my viewings of Cronenberg films...my main issues:

1. what if their kids had walked in on those sex scenes? They'd be in therapy for life. I know I would. Ugh. Don't even want to think about it.

2. The story could've used a little more meat or at least the movie could've been made shorter.

3:27 pm  

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