A Killer Killer Instinct

In a sleepy Indiana town, a nice man like Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) seems to fit in just fine. When two cold-blooded criminals step into his diner and threaten his customers, he springs into action and kill both men. To call Tom lucky is not the issue; his flawless performance is. The soft-spoken man has unspeakable and deadly moves. The local hero becomes a celebrity; the diner flourishes. It’s all honky-dory until a menacing mob figure (Ed Harris) tries to out him as a gangster named Joey Cusack. Tom insists calmly that it’s a matter of mistaken identity.

This is my first step into David Cronenberg’s cinematic realm; it has a silence that generates apprehension. Cronenberg almost leaves us defenseless. We’re usually equipped with knowledge other characters don’t know. Here, we’re in the dark. We’re even unsure of the good-hearted protagonist; he’s so inexplicable that you’d think he’s two different people. Mortensen, in an effective low-key performance, is supported by a talented cast. Actress Maria Bello (as Tom’s wife) brings an urgent realism while Ed Harris is surreal as a despicable bad guy. And Ashton Holmes is also good as Tom’s son Jack, who somehow parallels his dad’s duality.

The best thing here is Cronenberg’s direction. He keeps us on the edge by punctuating his movie with small bursts of violence, which have more impact than the boring and drawn-out action sequences we tend to see. But somehow Cronenberg drops the ball and loses the tension on the third act. It isn’t exactly a disaster but it’s not on par with the first two acts. Could the film been better if it was shorter or more compressed? Maybe. Two-thirds through, the movie could have been cut short. If Tom Stall was the editor, his killer instinct would urge him to do so.

Grade: B+

Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie
Screenplay by
Josh Olson
Based on the graphic novel by
John Wagner and Vince Locke
Directed by
David Cronenberg
Rated R for brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some drug useMovie Afterthought
This movie got me thinking about a question I’d like to ask my ancestors: Among the genes I’ve inherited, which are extraordinary?