Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Hey! Number 100 in the series.

This is a limited release that came out in 2005, so I’m seeing it for the first time in April on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s A History of Violence, featuring Ed Harris and William Hurt.

The opening scene is a notable cinematographic work. It’s a boom shot that runs for about four minutes, focusing initially on a chair sitting beside a door, outside a single-story motel. Presently Leland Jones (Stephen McHattie) emerges, followed by Billy Orser (Greg Bryk). As Billy exits the door, he straightens another chair that’s standing next to the door. Billy gets into the car parked out front, and Leland tells him to drive to the office, Leland will check out. Billy drives and stops in front of the office, and Leland goes inside, returning presently and taking over the driving. He mentions he had some trouble with the maid. It’s one continuous boom shot, following Billy as he goes into the Motel office to refill their water jug. Inside, Billy observes the bodies of the manager and the maid, and when a little girl opens a door to take a look, he shoots her with his pistol. These are two really bad dudes without any redeeming qualities. Turns out they are not long for the world.

The are on a cross-country spree of robbery and murder, and their fatal mistake is stopping to do Tom Stall’s (Viggo Mortensen) diner (somewhere in Indiana) They overplay their hand. It’s closing time, but the crooks crowd their way in. When Tom advises Charlotte (Deborah Drakeford), the waitress, to knock off and go home, the pair reveal their intent to rob the place. Leland directs Billy to show these locals they mean business by raping Charlotte. For an instant Leland takes his eyes off Tom, and Tom throws a pot of hot coffee in his face. The gun goes flying, Tom takes possession and puts four through Billy, who crashes backward through the front glass door. Leland, now on the floor, stabs Tom in the foot with a knife, and Tom plugs Leland in the back of the head.

Tom becomes a hero, and that is bad news. Tom cannot afford to be a hero with his face appearing in newspapers all over, especially Philadelphia.

Presently Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) shows up at Tom’s diner with a henchman. Carl recognizes Tom as Joey Cusack. The two have a history. In their most recent encounter Joey messed up Carl’s face, and more.

Meanwhile, Tom’s son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is experiencing life changes of his own. A bully, Bobby Singer (Kyle Schmid), who has been bearing down on Jack since near the beginning of the movie overplays his own hand. He pushes Jack too hard in the hall  at school and insults Jack’s girl friend, Judy Danvers (Sumela Kay). Jack stomps Bobby’s buddy and puts Bobby in the hospital. Tom doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and he strongly remonstrates Jack. It gets physical.

Carl and two henchmen show up at Tom’s house with the intent of taking Tom/Joey away with them—likely not a round trip. Tom resists, putting the two henchmen down for the count. When Carl prepares to shoot Tom, Jack comes up from behind and blows Carl away with a shotgun blast. A history of violence seems to run in the family.

Tom and his lovely wife Edie have had an intense and highly sexual relationship, but it begins to fall apart as Edie becomes aware of Tom’s double life. Tom figures he needs to  settle things for good and drives to Philadelphia to confront his nemesis, his brother Richie Cusack (William Hurt). Joey previously trashed a well-placed mobster (read “made-man”), and this has crippled Richie’s future in the mob. The only way Richie can fix the matter is to have Joey killed, and he sets a killer with a garrote on him. But Joey defeats the killer and Richie’s other henchman. He finally confronts Richie and puts a bullet in Richie’s head without hesitation.

Tom returns to  his home in Indiana, where his daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes) sets a place for him at the dinner table.

Yes, this is a good action movie. In addition to Jack’s tussle at school, there are three gunfights, and Tom wins two. He loses the second one, involving Carl, but Jack saves the day with his friendly shotgun. And that’s a bit much. On three separate occasions Tom turns the tables against overwhelming odds and receives minor injuries. This kind of stuff is legendary, for a reason. It does not happen in real life.

The opening scene is puzzling, as well. Leland and Billy have obviously spent the night in the hotel. Billy waits outside while Leland goes inside, presumably to rob and kill the manager. He kills the maid, as well. We hear no gunshots. His pistol does not have a silencer. We later learn he has a knife (in the diner). He must have knifed the two. That way other motel tenants don’t become curious. But Billy shoots the little girl with his pistol, making a lot of noise. Apparently they drive away unmolested.

There are any number of ways Leland and Billy could have been caught off guard by random people coming and going. Presumably they kill all witnesses, but why. They leave a trail of identity as they make their way cross-country. So, why kill witnesses? Makes for extra drama.

William Hurt appeared in a number of interesting productions, but I have only seen The Accidental Tourist, where he plays a travel writer with a dysfunctional family. Haven’t been able to catch this on the tube.

We remember Ed Harris from a number of notable works. He was John Glenn in The Right Stuff, Kristof in The Truman Show, and the German sniper in Enemy at the Gates.


One thought on “Bad Movie Wednesday

  1. Pingback: Bad Movie Wednesday | Skeptical Analysis

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