Rating: The Good – 84.2 Genre: Horror, Science Fiction Duration: 96 mins Director: David Cronenberg Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
Few directors demonstrated the innate ability to disturb like David Cronenberg did in his earlier films and in this more mainstream outing he didn’t hold back in the slightest (deleted cat-baboon scene notwithstanding). The result is a sci-fi horror masterpiece unlike anything before it or since. A remake of the 1958 original, this film also tells the story of a scientist who while testing a teleportation device gets spliced together with a fly resulting in a incremental transformation into a diabolical hybrid of the two species. Jeff Goldblum is phenomenal as the scientist Seth Brundle. He makes the character his own and brings a host of perfectly fitting idiosyncratic mannerisms to both Brundle’s human character and ultimately the Brundlefly character. He is well supported by Geena Davis as Veronica, the journalist documenting his project and inevitable love interest.
On the technical front, the creature effects are incredible but certainly not for the squeamish while Howard Shore’s score is tremendous and reminiscent of Herrmann at his most dramatic. The Fly is a peculiar film in many ways. It has a very small cast as most of the action takes place in Brundle’s lab. This augments the authenticity of Brundle’s and Veronica’s relationship, making the climax all the more poignant. On an implicit level, The Fly is perhaps better remembered for its more sinister undertones. The idea that technology is the manifestation of the over-boldness of genius lies at the heart of the film. Rarely has this message been expressed in colder more effective fashion than in Cronenberg’s masterful use of the Kuleshov effect where Brundle gets told the cold hard truth from his seemingly insidious computer. Take a bow Mr. Cronenberg.
Rating: The Good – 74.2 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 103 mins Director: David Cronnenberg Screenplay: David Cronnenberg Stars: Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Jennifer O’Neill
A terrific horror written and directed by David Cronnenberg who strikes just the right balance between mainstream and skewed story telling. This is a film accessible enough to engage everyone but inaccessible enough to leave them slightly uncomfortable. It tells the story of a telepathically gifted group of humans (scanners) in North America who are caught between a defence contractor who wants to use them in its weapons programme and a more sinister force led by the always great Michael Ironside. The film does come across slightly dated by now though the special effects seem all the creepier because of it (check out those grotesque pulsating veins). Stephen Lack is completely wooden and a little laughable in the lead role. However, all shortcomings on the acting front are made up for by Patrick McGoohan as the scientist studying the scanners and in particular Ironside who devours the scenery as one of the great sci-fi villains, Darryl Revok.
Rating: The Bad – 54.1 Genre: Action Duration: 96 mins Director: Roger Spottiswoode Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris
Okay, the first two acts of the film have a clichéd sub-plot involving an annoying son and some cartoon bullies but the premise was fascinating and had the potential to develop in to something really special. Small town man Tom Stall lives what seems to be the perfect small town life: close-knit family, respected around the community, and a solid little diner-business. Until one evening, two psychopaths stop by his diner and attempt to murder a waitress while holding the place up. Stall springs to life and disarms one of the assailants before killing him and his partner in a clear cut case of self-defence, albeit an incredibly heroic one. Things get even more interesting when some mob guys from Philadelphia, having seen Stall’s picture on the news, show up and claim that Tom is their old acquaintance, crazy Joey Cusack. Stall denies it vehemently and an enthralling guessing game ensues which sees even Stall’s family begin to doubt him. (Note: Spoilers are a necessary feature of this critique from this point on).
If you haven’t seen this film, then the set-up described should have you tingling with excitement and up to this point, the film lives up to any expectations you might have. Viggo Mortensen is excellent as everyman Tom Stall who just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cronenberg took his time getting there and had struck just the right balance between the more violent and calmer aspects to the story (with a fantastically staged opening shot capturing the essence of such an approach). Best of all, Ed Harris as the Philly wise-guy is electric in a role that has you guessing from the first time we see him. Unfortunately, just when Cronenberg should be ramping up the mystery and tantalising us with a resolution that is better off not provided, he resolves it flatly and in as manic and unintentionally farcical a fashion as you could possibly imagine. The third act descends into an eye-deceiving second-rate Jean-Claude Van Damme flick with unexplained martial arts ability, gratuitous sex scenes, illogical family behaviour, and cartoon gangsters everywhere.
There are those who have attempted to interpret this dramatic shift in tone as a facilitator for a kind of cultural commentary regarding violence and its place within us. However, there is simply no denying that any such commentaries could have been infinitely better explored by denying the audience the childish catharses of the third act. In fact, in resolving this story in the way it did, Cronenberg et al. refused to shine the light back on the audience and thus give credence to the notion that there was an intelligible social or cultural commentary in play.
It must be pointed out that, A History of Violence is an adaptation of a graphic novel of the same name (written by John Wagner or Vince Locke) and if anything, John Olson’s adaptation and Cronenberg’s interpretation do try to elevate the central mystery and consequently delay the thriller-action movie transition (there is no indictment here of Wagner or Locke as graphic novels are expected to be action heavy). But the fact that those making the film realised how important the mystery was but didn’t have the vision to protect it, is the biggest mistake a director of Cronenberg’s class is likely to make.
To say that this movie’s final act was a let-down is the understatement of all understatements. If you like brain-at-reception movies, then this is probably the film for you. However, if you believe a film which starts off intelligently should conclude in similar fashion (if not more so) then avoid, avoid, avoid! A History of Violence is a perfect example of a film that needs to be remade. Leave the classics alone, remake the films that had potential, but failed to live up to it because the writers didn’t have the perspective to see it.