A History of Violence
This is a powerful film about the nature of violence, and the question of whether someone can create a new life that leaves behind a violent past.
The story begins with two bad men casually murdering some people, then cuts to a middle-aged man, Tom Stall, who owns a diner in a small town where everyone knows each other. When the bad men show up to rob the diner, Tom kills them both. That gets Tom on the news, and a few days later a very threatening Ed Harris shows up insisting that Tom is really Joey, a violent man from Philidelphia. Tom denies he's Joey, but when violence is required to save his family, Tom becomes a lethal Joey.
The acting is first rate, with Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
On a side note, years ago I spent time in a chat area with Josh Olson, aka BadCog, the screenwriter for History. In an interview, Cog mentioned his dislike of 'conscious theme.' How anyone could write a script titled A History of Violence and not be aware of what the story is about is beyond me. While I dislike the word theme (it's used as a label more often than not), what a story is about should infuse the action and the characters. A scene in History that was about sex and violence felt more like a mis-step than didn't really have anything to say. In that sense, the scene wasn't connected to anything deeper in the story.
As I recall, Josh used to watch 2-3 movies a day. That was his education in screenwriting, and it shows in the suggestive, subtle dialogue and clever action.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
The opening two minutes of the film are a man knocking on the door of an isolated farm house and waiting for someone to respond. He notices a nest of bald-faced hornets that shouldn't be active in the winter, but nothing about the opening speaks that directly to the purpose of the story, and that's the problem with the story structure in the first half of the film. Many dark places, no clear story purpose.
The plot question is set out early and clearly: is a Priest responsible for the death of a girl he considered possessed, that he tried to help with an exorcism?
The story question that arises half way through the film is embodied by the priest's defense attorney, who discovers a sense of faith during the course of the priest's trial.
The first half of the film is often objective, giving an overview of the characters and Emily Rose and what happened to her that led to the priest considering her to be possessed by demons. Every character except the DA seems to get their five minutes of screen time. But dark hallways and shadows and hissing cats aren't a substitute for a compelling main character, or a compelling story question for a cast of characters to act out. Or particularly scary.
The film does raise some questions about belief, science, religion, and law, but during the course of the film Emily Rose appears to suffer a mental illness, then just as convincingly demonstrates she's possessed.
The trailers of the film suggest a supernatural thriller, but the film is mainly a courtroom drama with flashbacks.
This film has a powerful set up, a mother on a plane can't find her daughter, and no one believes that she brought her daughter aboard the flight. The attempt to make the plot realistic in the second half of the movie stumbles when the pacing allows the audience to pull back and think about the contrivances of the plot. In a movie like The Usual Suspects, which is also contrived, there's a stronger narrative momentum that doesn't allow as much time to stop and consider the improbability of the action.
Hustle and Flow
A powerful film about a pimp who has a dream about becoming a rapper. The actor, Terrence Dashon Howard, commands the screen. In terms of storytelling, this is a character who's living close to the gutter who still has a dream that comes to animate his life, and then the lives of his dispirited hookers.
There's a formula to the storytelling, but the movie demonstrates the good things that can happen when the formula is done well, with actors who are willing to walk on the dark side of life. In the language of one of the main characters, this is story that both 'talks the talk and walks the walk.'