Movies of the Week: Cronenberg-Mortensen Triple Feature

The body-horror master, David Cronenberg, returns to his twisted ways with his new film “Crimes of the Future” (2022), and he reached out to his go-to actor, Viggo Mortensen, for the part of a performance artist who frequently is carved up on a sicko operating table.  “Crimes” is the fourth partnership between David and Viggo, so let’s look back at their three previous cinematic encounters in a triple feature that you shouldn’t miss. 

Edie and Tom Stall (Maria Bello and Viggo Mortensen)

“A History of Violence” (2005) – Set in rural Indiana, this step into film noir offers a classic conflict of big-city organized crime finding its way into small-town middle America.

Worlds collide.

We see black sedans with tinted windows and men with dark suits and firearms roaming the quaint streets.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) finds himself in the middle of this sudden clash and is caught in a case of mistaken identity.

Or is his identity not mistaken?

Cronenberg gets everything right, including a sweeping, brooding score that establishes unsettling tones for an intense, jaw-dropping experience.

Maria Bello plays Tom’s wife, Edie.  She’s a strong partner but is confused by the invasion into their happy existence, and Mortensen delivers a shadowy, stealthy performance, as we cannot discern if Tom sits on one or both sides of a morally divided fence.

“A History of Violence” is one of 2005’s very best films, and William Hurt – who plays a ruthless gangster – earned himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, even though he only appears on-screen for 12 minutes, tops.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and Nikolai (Mortensen)

“Eastern Promises” (2007) – Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) works for a Russian mobster in London, but he usually says, “I’m just a driver.”

That’s not very accurate.

Nicknamed “The Undertaker”, Nikolai also specializes in cutting off fingers and removing teeth from dead victims of his employers.  One day, this quiet but imposing force fatefully meets Anna (Naomi Watts).  She’s a doctor who lost a patient, and her curious nature leads her to the doorstep of organized crime.

David Cronenberg keeps us off-balance in this unfamiliar setting, and this violent thriller keeps us guessing the film’s direction.  Mortensen’s gripping turn of a complicated and fearsome mobster rightfully earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and “Eastern Promises” will stir the sincere hope that the Russian mob never knocks on our doors.

⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen)

“A Dangerous Method” (2011) – Cronenberg’s period piece about Carl Jung’s (Michael Fassbender) doctor/patient relationship with Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is a delicate, clinical tale.  Exhibiting some very frightening symptoms of mental illness, Sabina places the audience on a knife’s edge, but she also carries a determined and uncompromising spirit.  We see Jung treat Spielrein through non-traditional methods – at the time – by only talking through her issues.  Along the way, he develops a working relationship with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).

Fassbender and Mortensen purposely deliver understated performances and reveal their conflict through subtle, strained, and forced encounters, and Mortensen earned himself a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination. 

Beautifully filmed, Cronenberg – known for his eccentric and unsettling material – remains grounded here.  During this unlikely journey, he opens the door to two relationships that we are free to diagnose.

⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image credits: Entertainment One, Focus Features, and New Line Cinema

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