A History Of Violence (2005)

DVD Cover (New Line Studios)
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Overall Rating 68%
Overall Rating
Ranked #657
...out of 13,981 movies
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Genres / Traits: Crime Thriller Thriller DC Comics

Tom Stall, a humble family man and owner of a popular neighborhood restaurant, lives a quiet but fulfilling existence in the Midwest. One night Tom foils a crime at his place of business and, to his chagrin, is plastered all over the news for his heroics. Following this, mysterious people follow the Stalls' every move, concerning Tom more than anyone else. As this situation is confronted, more lurks out over where all these occurrences have stemmed from compromising his marriage, family relationship and the main characters' former relations in the process. --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 30, 2005
Tom Stall is a pretty regular guy. He owns and runs Stall's Diner, the local eatery, where he knows everyone by name and treats everyone with respect and kindness. He has a beautiful wife (Maria Bello), and two amazing children (Ashton Holmes & Heidi Hayes). Tom Stall is the epitome of the American dream. One night, however, two men comes into his restaurant and hold a waitress at gunpoint, demanding that he give them all of the money in the cash register. It is fairly obvious that these men intend to kill all who are present in the diner. Without a hesitation, Tom takes out both men, in seconds, in a very grisly and unexpected manner. It seems like he has done this before. Instantly and surprisingly, Tom becomes a national hero -- an everyman who did the extraordinary. Enter Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his two henchmen. Carl strolls into town and swears that he knows Tom -- except he knows him as Joey Cusack. Carl accuses Tom of being a former mobster who did some damage to his eye with some barbed wire. Tom denies this and maintains his identity as Tom Stall. As Carl and his gang of thugs get closer and closer to Tom and his family, secrets are revealed, and Tom's past comes roaring back into his life, threatening both his life and the lives of the ones he loves. The film rests on these double identities, if there are, indeed, double identities. Is Tom who he says he is, or does he have a dark past that he has been keeping well hidden?

With that out of the way, I think it is safe to say that these seems like the least likely David Cronenberg ever. The plot-line does not fall within his usual selection of projects. The last film he directed, "Spider", was the polar opposite of this film. Give Cronenberg credit for having the audacity to be this diverse so late in his career as a filmmaker. "A History of Violence" is not only the most accessible David Cronenberg film to date, but also the most entertaining. The film had drama, humor, violence, tension, family dilemmas, and everything you would expect from a director like Jonathan Demme, not from a director like David Cronenberg, who prides himself on being different and controversial. The most controversial aspect of this film was probably Maria Bello's nude scene, or maybe the effrontery violence. This is not a film for the light of stomach -- think "In the Bedroom" when we see Nick Stahl's brains poured out on the floor. But, the violence here is not as bad, merely because we don't like the people who are killed. They get what they truly deserve.

Sticking this film with the label of a certain genre is tricky. Most would say this is a mob movie, but it most certainly is not. This is about a man who is being very much harassed by the mob. But, we see very little mob activity -- certainly not the amount needed to make this a mob movie. "A History of Violence" is more of a family drama than anything else -- the story of a man who gave up a history of carnage in order to start a new life; a man who will do whatever it takes to protect and honor the new life he has made. You could also call this film a strict character study, of one man coping with his past and present at the same time. Tom Stall is an everyman but is driven to violence uncontrollably. But, once he starts down that road once again, we see how it progresses and continues. It is as if, once he starts, he just cannot stop. But, he does. The love he has for his family makes him stop. This is not a film about a family falling apart, but about a family growing stronger.

A master filmmaker, David Cronenberg slows it down a bit with this one. All of his usual quirks are gone. This is new Cronenberg, dare I say new and improved. Take, for example, the opening sequence involving the two men who later end up dead at the diner. This is a drawn out sequence. We know what is going to happen before it does happen, but we still find ourselves fixated on the action taking place. Why does Cronenberg feel the need for this? When you first see those two men in the street of the town, we know why he did it. It makes their expressions that much more jolting than if we had never seen them before. Also, take the end sequence between Tom, and William Hurt. If this film were shot in traditional Cronenberg form, Tom would have been ambushed and killed, then his family burned alive and eaten. Instead, we really get what we want. We see exactly what we need to see in order to feel satiated with ourselves. By this point in the film, we have grown to love the character of Tom Stall, and the last thing we want to see is his getting injured or killed. When has there ever been such a likable Cronenberg character. My answer is 'never'.

This is the performance of Viggo Mortenson's career. He does everything right here. He is strong, seductive, nasty, and even vicious. He turns it on at the drop of a hat, and he was the perfect choice for the protagonist of this film. Maria Bello, in yet another underrated performance, draws so much attention and emotion, you never want her to leave the screen. She and Mortenson share some of the most intense and watchable sex scenes I have ever seen in film. Their chemistry is obvious, and it really helps send this film into orbit. In yet another outstanding supporting role, Ed Harris is sinister and delicious, with his crazy eye and malicious henchmen. We know, without a doubt, that he is as bad as people say he is. The same can be said for William Hurt, in what could have been a stereotypical gangster role. He adds a little humor, and a whole lot of hurt in his brief appearance. Maybe with this film, Cronenberg has become more of an actor's director. He certainly extracts every ounce of emotion and intensity imaginable from these actors, and it works like a charm.

Will this go down as Cronenberg's masterpiece? With such an outstanding resume, it is hard to say it is his best film, but I certainly enjoyed it more than anything else that has bore his name. "Spider" was nice and all, but it lagged in several key departments. Most of his other films have seemed controversial for the sake of being controversial. "A History of Violence" is a slow, steady, and stunning look at how our past can come back to haunt us. Viggo Mortenson delivers an Oscar worthy bow here, as does Maria Bello as his loyal and loving wife. When this goes wide, you would be wise to check it out. This was one of the best films I have seen in 2005, and expect it somewhere in my top five, when that time rolls around. Films like this make me proud to be a film critic. They reinforce my belief that there are still original ideas left in Hollywood. It's just up to the master directors to take those ideas and turn them into gold. Cronenberg has started his own gold mine.

BuryMeAlive #1: BuryMeAlive - added 04/29/2006, 03:02 PM
This movie is really, really overrated... Nothing really happens, and I feel nothing for the characters. A total bore of a movie....
Tristan #2: Tristan - added 09/28/2007, 12:58 AM
That's exactly how I feel. It was so boring. I really didn't care what happened in it, by the end. And the sex scenes were unbearably uncomfortable to sit through. 5/10
effin #3: effin - added 10/23/2007, 09:32 PM
I thought the overall direction of the movie was great, and there is something to be said in how the movie ends, viggo comes home and not a word is spoken like any opressed faimly does.
bluemeanie #4: bluemeanie - added 10/23/2007, 11:14 PM
I repeat -- amazing film. One of Cronenberg's finest in a long time. Made me forget all about the piece of shit that was "Naked Lunch".
Tristan #5: Tristan - added 10/23/2007, 11:22 PM
Piece of shit? Are you forgetting eXistenZ and Spider?
bluemeanie #6: bluemeanie - added 10/24/2007, 10:14 AM
I didn't say David Cronenberg was a piece of shit. I said "Naked Lunch" was a piece of shit.
bluemeanie #7: bluemeanie - added 10/24/2007, 10:15 AM
And "Existenz" WAS a piece of shit.
Tristan #8: Tristan - added 10/24/2007, 01:31 PM
I meant that there was much worse stuff after Naked Lunch. ie Spider and eXistenZ
Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg #9: Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg - added 12/21/2007, 08:09 AM
I loved it. The drama of the family that unravels is definitely the centerpiece and it's handled wonderfully.
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