i’ve never been much of a cronenberg fan and this film didn’t do much to help his case with me. some of his early stuff i find somewhat entertaining and intriguing, but a few of his post-1990 films have been truly awful. he seems fascinated by the relationship between sex and violence and that doesn’t interest me at all.
the film starts off with a long, uncut shot that tracks two criminals who end up being the catalyst for the film’s major conflicts. this scene may have been the most interesting in the film because it held the potential for many things: it could have been funny, shocking, artistic, etc. there’s an uncomfortable silence in these opening minutes that could have been used in so many ways. it turns out that the characters are career criminals on a cross-country murder spree, but cronenberg leaves all of this very open. after the initial introduction to these characters who appear only one more time in the film’s most pivotal scene, we are introduced to viggo mortensen’s family. cronenberg presents the family in a very shallow and two-dimensional way. the sense one gets is that either he is setting the scene for a stark contrast after the violent act (which we’ve all seen in the previews by now), or he has an utter lack of talent when it comes to portraying a decent family with sincerity and subtlety. i gave him the benefit of the doubt, but wasn’t rewarded. about 90% of the viewers around me did not give him the benefit of the doubt and had therefore become disengaged early on. in other words, for them the film was as good as sunk a mere 10 minutes in.
portrayals of the family and the town life are very cliché and simplistic. the young daughter has a nightmare and the entire family comes to her side to insure her that everything is okay. the teenage boy’s high school troubles are drawn in an equally simple manner – the bully is wooden and not realistically drawn. it’s a small town and everyone gets along, it’s the kind of thing you’ve seen in a million films, but here it seems as though cronenberg isn’t even trying to add character to his characters and settings. i assumed that this was all going to be for effect and, to a certain extent, i was right.
after mortensen kills the two criminals in a justifiable act of self-defense and heroism ed harris comes from the past to settle an old score. mortensen feigns ignorance, but we all know the truth – mortensen has a shady past. what’s most interesting about the story (which is based upon a graphic novel) is the way violence affects people and relationships. it’s quite interesting to see mortensen’s character change from simple and nice to multi-faceted, dark and complex. sadly, cronenberg loses much of his audience in trying to establish mortensen as joe average early in the film. the characters and their relationships are drawn too simply and, conversely, the post-violence characters/relationships are too dark and complex. maria bello (who plays mortensen’s wife) and mortensen change too much and neither is very sympathetic by film’s end.
perhaps the best way to view the film is the way i did in retrospect: as a parable. these characters aren’t supposed to breathe like they do in good dramas, they’re supposed to be symbols for things in society. it’s more a commentary on the role of violence in society than a portrait of a family forced to deal with the shady past of its patriarch. when viewed like this you don’t have to think about the difficult elements of filmmaking like subtlety and character development. therefore, as a story it’s quite good. but as a film, a few shots aside, it’s less than stellar.Watched in theater