A History of Violence is a History of Crap
I expected A History of Violence to be palatable at minimum, very good at best. Needless to say I was very surprised when it sucked as bad as it did. It's based on a graphic novel by the same name which I haven't read, so I can't speak as to whether the novel sucked, but as far as the movie? Sucked.
(ALERT: spoilers ahead)
You've got Viggo Mortensen, who is generally a good actor, as mild-mannered Tom Stall. There's Ed Harris, who did the best he could with an unoriginal role as some sort of mob guy. William Hurt, of whom I'm a big fan, but didn't deserve a supporting Oscar nomination in this case (sorry William). Oh, and the writers, who also wrote the comic book, sorry, graphic novel (which is a comic book in stead of a comic magazine) got an Oscar nom for best adaptation which they absolutely didn't deserve - unless the book was also a Cornucopia of Crap (stole that from someone brilliant who didn't like the movie either), then I guess they did a great job!
In the beginning, the all-important first scene which you expect to be a thread that weaves throughout or has something, anything to do with the rest of the movie, doesn't accomplish anything except to serve as an amateurish, arbitrary device to (deep breath) get Viggo's character to kill to bring Ed Harris in the picture, who recognizes him from the news who then exposes his past as some mob killer guy or whatever and then something about William Hurt being his brother in the mob and Viggo, before he became good guy Tom Stall when he was bad guy Joey something or other, killed somebody who ruined William's character from getting "made" -- then it gets hazy ... mainly because I was falling asleep at this point -- (inhale) but Maria Bello does some broad acting stuff and they have a little creepy Barbie doll daughter and a son who is in high school who is played by some young actor who needs lesson in Understanding Your Character and Making a Choice and Being Specific (he's horrible). Sorry, I fell asleep before it ended. Suffice to say, A History of Violence was over-praised and overrated.
But there is a movie out on DVD that is fantastic but was shamefully overlooked:
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio Should Have Been a Big Prize Winner
This is a true story based on the novel of the same name written by Terry Ryan, the middle daughter of ten children who grew up extremely poor in Defiance, Ohio in the 50s and 60s. The title is derived from the ability of their ever-positive mother, Evelyn, to win money and prizes by writing catchy jingles or slick slogans for advertisers' products back in the day. With the weight of ten children and a poorly providing alcoholic father who drank a pint of whiskey and a six pack of beer every day, Evelyn's miraculous ability to win contests kept them, barely, in milk, food, and even a home. Julianne Moore is amazing as Evelyn, who chooses to find the positive side to everything even in the face of utter despair and lost hope. Woody Harrelson has the difficult task of taking a horrible character and finding little ways to make us not hate him as much as we'd like to, and he does a marvelous job. Here's where I compare this movie to Walk the Line, also a true story where the actors, specifically Reese Witherspoon, had to play real people. Julianne Moore's outstanding performance deserved an Oscar nomination over Ms. Witherspoon hands down. In fact, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio should have been nominated not only for the two leading actors, but also in directing for Jane Anderson who does a brilliant, beautiful, subtle job, and who also wrote a masterful adaptation of the novel. I think the reason this movie was missed was because DreamWorks totally dropped the ball in getting behind this great piece. It was advertised not as a wonderful period drama of a struggling family led by a courageous mother who luckily was a wiz with words, but as a trite, campy period piece about a June Cleaver-type mother. Everything about this movie was much better than Walk the Line, which I felt was rather pat and pedestrian. Now that it's out on DVD, I hope The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio finds the audience it deserves. I don't usually go this overboard with a film, but The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a wonderful, touching drama without being saccharine or obvious. The performances, script, direction and the film itself deserved all Oscar had to offer.