A History of Violence doesn’t try to be an action flick; it takes a hard look at violence in its many forms. Can violence ever be justified? Are you still heroic when you’re violent? I missed this film when it was released in 2005. I would have been ten years old at the time, so probably for the best, considering its graphic content!
In the film, violence is an infection that takes over a suburban family. It starts when Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) has a rather violent encounter with two men, who try to rob his diner. With surprising skill and precision, Tom fights back and saves the customers. He’s hailed as a local hero by the townspeople and his wife Edi (Maria Bello) and their two children can’t believe it.
It’s the news coverage of Tom that brings the menacing gangster, Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) to town. He claims he had dealings with Tom in the past and begins to stalk the family. Tom insists he has no idea who this man is, but Carl says otherwise. As expected, the situation gets out of hand.
When watching, it’s clear Cronenberg wants to make the point we’re all capable of violence, but how we indulge it is what defines us. It’s one of the main reasons this small-town crime thriller feels different to other films in the same vein.
Cronenberg finds a new angle on a familiar plot, mainly due to his direct comment on violence and the fact Tom is such a conflicted character. Mortensen shows an impressive range of emotion and trauma. He plays the role in a such a shifty way, you start to question if Fogarty really has got the wrong guy. It’s compelling stuff, but now here’s my complaints…
I’m not convinced by some parts of A History of Violence, as it has obvious flaws. The dialogue, for one, isn’t well-written. It sounds about as corny as a bowl of cereal. I respect that dialogue is super hard to get right, but it’s one of the first things everyone notices. Also, there’s a pointless subplot about Tom’s son, Jack (Ashton Holmes) and a high school bully. I rolled my eyes at all this. Not because I’m heartless, we just don’t learn anything new about bullying. Also, it creates a separation from the main plot, which makes the film disjointed.
There’s still a lot to admire here regardless. Morgenstern and Bello are superb together and convey their dilemmas to perfection. The story has edge and grit. Themes of identity, infection and of course, violence get explored at every opportunity.
A History of Violence is a crafty, entertaining film. It’s pretty subversive and honed with some intense moments. It takes a strong stomach to watch, but it’s good if you see it for the right reasons.
Here’s the trailer below:
Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: John Olsen (screenplay), John Wagner (graphic novel)
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Mario Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Richie Cusack.
Distribtur: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 96 minutes.