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Being a real Cronenberg fan, i can't help but have mixed feelings about this movie. It's a great movie, very effective and tight, but it's not a Cronenberg film and i came out of it feeling overall disappointed. I like some degree of perversion in dark films, and Cronenberg delivers that like nobody else. I tried hard, but i really could hardly find any trace from the man who directed such classics as Brood, The (1979), Crash (1996), Naked Lunch (1991), Videodrome (1983), Fly 1, The (1986) or Dead Zone, The (1983).
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a mild mannered family man. Along with his wife Edie (Maria Bello) and his two kids, he leads a simple and trouble-free life in a small Indiana town. As the owner of a small diner, he is an integral part of the community, but one day, when two armed robbers come in and threaten to kill the staff, Tom displays some uncanny skill in quickly disarming and then killing the two men. Immediately heralded as a hero, his face starts appearing on newspapers and on TV and a few days later, a menacing individual (Ed Harris) shows up at the diner claiming that Tom is in fact someone else, with a violent and troubling past. Is this a case of mistaken identity or does Tom indeed have a secret past no one in the town knows about?
The movie's obsession about violence is well taken. The characters are all deeply affected by it and what they ultimately have to do to deal with its consequences. The delineation between good and bad is clear, yet not so clear. On one side, there are people who are really obviously bad, and on the other side, there are people who are obviously good, but Tom acts as a counterpoint and in a very contradictory fashion, Tom is both evil and good. The film is skillful in straddling this line even in how it is structured. The film is generally very quiet, but when violence erupts, it's quick, strong and graphic. It's polarizing and effective and that's good, but it does create an emotional amplitude that i personally had trouble with. At some point, i felt bored, and then soon after, i felt energized as the story moved forward. The movie alternates between contemplation, looking at how characters feel about stuff, and confrontation where characters are forced to make decisions and advance the story as a result. The writing is definitely successful in playing that duality.
The film is really well done with good cinematography and art direction. There is nothing amazing here, but it fits the tone of the film properly. The only area i regretted was the music which never emerged as a strong element in the film. Where the movie shines is with its great cast. Viggo Mortensen is superb as a conflicted man who has renounced his past. Maria Bello has one of her best performance ever. The supporting cast is also impeccable. Ed Harris is so sharp and menacing that he will give you goose bumps. And finally, William Hurt did deserve his Oscar nomination with a fantastic character of a second-rate Mob boss who could have been much more if only his brother (Tom) had not messed it all up many years ago.
The film is really good, but i had expected something different. I had heard about how this film was uncharacteristically mainstream for Cronenberg, but i was surprised nevertheless. I was expecting something a little bit crazier and more perverted than it ended up being. My fault was to expect a Cronenberg movie but Cronenberg was more concerned with delivering a tight thriller, with great characters and performances, and remain faithful to the original graphic novel. The movie is great and will satisfy most people if you go along with that. Obviously, most reviews have been more than positive. I will definitely give it another try in the future as my own misguided expectations kind of spoiled this first viewing.
- Laurent Hasson