Howard Shore's collaboration with director David Cronenberg has often resulted in some of the more interesting and creatively diverse music produced within the boundaries of Hollywood, with notable scores for films like The Fly, Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers and Crash. Shore's unusual approaches for Cronenberg's films may not always be that engaging or easy to embrace as standalone listening experiences, but they are, more or less, always perfect fits for the films they are written for, creating aural landscapes that really add to the total experience of the films. Or, to be blunt, Shore's music is often as weird and unusual as the films themselves.
His score for Cronenberg's A History of Violence features some of the most approachable music the composer has written for a Cronenberg film to date. Starring Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, a family man who kills two men, with unexpected brutality, during an attempted robbery at Tom's diner, the film deals with the duality of man. Shore writes in the liner notes that "the composition and its counterpoint were constructed to reflect Tom's dual nature", and musically illustrates this duality with a dialogue between French horn and alto flutes. This idea permeates large portions of the score and the horns and flutes are usually trusted with performances of the films main theme. The theme's toned down fanfare sounding building blocks, consisting of ascending notes, gives the theme a certain noble quality and actually brings back memories of Shore's Gondor music from The Lord of the Rings.
Opening with some dissonance in "Motel", the score soon settles down, taking on a more relaxing approach, with soft strings, horns and flutes. However, "Hero" introduces the listener to some tension, which reaches its climax in "Run", with the kind of staccato strings, brass and percussion which dominated large parts of Shore's music for The Aviator, one time even borrowing a couple of bars from that score. Darkness and tensions dominate the following cues, with appearances by low, dissonant, brass
Usually very dense and serious the suspense parts share a very rythmic quality and its steady pace and brooding strings has a tendency to get a little tiresome at times. There's some dissonance but it never gets overbearing. At the same time, the thematic material, apart from the main theme, isn't that interesting - the music often just lingers on, dominated by instruments belonging in the lower register of the orchestra - but the appearances of the score's main themes are always welcome breaths of fresh air. And when it comes down to it, A History of Violence is a well constructed and crafted score, albeit with a little too much brooding underscore to really make a strong, lasting impression.