American History Icks

Columbus Alive | September 29, 2005
Looking by all appearances like a straight-up thriller with mob ties and revenge on its mind, David Cronenberg’s biggest film to date is about to open at multiplexes nationwide, but don’t let the sheep’s clothing of traditional genre fare fool you. He plays into those conventions, and to audiences seeking them out for a safe rush, but Cronenberg goes further, challenging the acceptance of sex and violence as spectacle, and indicting his viewers—and himself—in the process.

The movie begins with two weathered villains at a desert hotel and a taboo-breaking murder. It quickly moves to a bedroom in the Stall home, where little Sarah has awoken from a nightmare. The entire family—dad Tom (Viggo Mortensen), mom Edie (Maria Bello) and teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes)—huddle around her in a too-perfect circle of security.

They live in a home and a small, middle-America town that are equally idyllic. On a night free from the kids, Tom and Edie play out a high school fantasy in the bedroom. Edie teases Tom with, “You’re a bad boy.” She has no idea.

The killers appear again at Tom’s Diner, guns in hand, intending to rob the place. Violent retaliation—sudden, scary, slick in execution and very ugly in the afterglow—turns Tom into an “American hero.” The media coverage of the incident attracts Ed Harris’ Philly mobster, who insists Tom is Joey Cusack, the man who left him horribly scarred many years before.

Tom’s actions, and his questioned identity, create shocking ripple effects in the family, and form a tightening knot of apprehension in the viewer. Throughout, every principal player does exceptional work, especially Mortensen, transforming his character with smooth precision, and Bello, who, when the time is right, perfectly mixes pleasure and revulsion. Only William Hurt, showing up late in a great, weird supporting part, can steal their thunder.

Cronenberg ultimately makes a hard break from convention, offering no catharsis or comfort, but a cold hollowness like a spent shell cartridge, which penetrates deep and lasts for hours. The chill, however, and the conversations the movie inspires afterward, are incredibly invigorating. Overall, it’s one of the most powerful moviegoing experiences of the year.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 62 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215
  • Phone: (614) 221-2449