Written by Josh Olson
Directed by David Cronenberg
Running Time: 1:35
for strong brutal violence, graphic sexuality,
nudity, language and some drug use.
A History of Violence was a shockingly brutal film with twists and turns (some obvious, some not) that eventually lead to an unresolved ending that'll you'll either accept or find annoying.
Tom Stall, his wife Edie and their two kids, live in a small town in Indiana. Tom runs a local diner while Edie is an attorney. They're very much in love and for the most part, things are going well. Then one night, two drifters walk into the diner and Tom is forced to kill them before they kill him and his employees. Tom turns into a national hero and his picture is plastered all over the papers and on television. Just a few days later, some mobsters come into town, believing that Tom is someone named Joey from Philadelphia. Tom denies everything, but the mobsters keep coming back into his life. Does Tom have a secret? Is he in witness protection? Why do these mobsters think he's this guy Joey? And what till Tom have to do to survive?
I had no preconceived notions when I walked into A History of Violence. I had heard it was a good movie, but I didn't know what it was about. After the first few minutes, I thought it was going to be a tale of a guy who becomes a hero, then has to deal with the aftereffects. You know, his wife would be jealous of the attention, his kids would get picked on in school, that kind of thing. Well, this movie took off in a whole other direction. I have to warn you, I'm likely going to give away a few plot points so skip ahead to the end if you don't want to know what the movie is about. When Tom kills the people in the diner, he does so with amazing precision, but at first it didn't register with me. I thought he was just a normal guy who took a chance and it was all adrenaline. The way he takes apart the drifters is extremely violent, and director David Cronenberg is not afraid to show, in extreme close-up, just how violent it is. In fact, if you can't handle blood and gore, you're going to want to skip this movie, because just about all the death scenes are very nasty. When the mobsters come in, you start to realize that Tom probably isn't who he says he is, and when he dispatches the mobsters (with the help of his son) you know for certain. The only question that remains is, what is he going to do about it? Well, we find that out pretty soon.
All of the performances in the film were pretty amazing. Viggo Mortensen plays Tom as a meek, laid back diner owner, but one who can explode at a moments notice. And he's believable in both personalities. You look at him and wonder how he could fight anyone, but when it comes time to protect himself and his family, he becomes larger than life. Maria Bello plays Edie as a strong, loving wife. It was like they both knew, she was the one in charge of the marriage, but when she sees the other side of Tom, she feels like she's lost control over everything she knew. Ed Harris, who plays one of the mobsters, was terrific in his short time on screen. He was cordial, almost friendly, but you could sense the anger hiding just below the surface. And William Hurt, who plays another mobster, was a welcome surprise and not someone I would have originally imagined for the role.
The film moves along very slowly and deliberately. The opening of the film follows the drifters and the first few minutes is one long tracking shot that allows you to feel the emptiness of the surroundings, a theme that follows in the rest of the film. The town that Tom lives in is very desolate and Tom himself keeps things close to the vest. On the surface, the town, and Tom, are very nice and welcoming, but underneath there's another layer that is kept hidden from the outside world. There are moments where nothing is said, but everything is conveyed in a simple look. The twists in the movie are somewhat telegraphed, but the performances are what keep you locked on to the screen. One of the best moments in the film, a moment which showed the two sides of Tom come out within milliseconds of each other, was when Tom and his son Jack are talking in the kitchen. This was after Tom had killed the two drifters, and Jack had beaten up two bullies in school. Tom says, in his meek, almost scared way, that in this family, beating up people is not the answer to a problem. Jack immediately says that no, in this family you kill your problems. Tom rears back and smacks his son in the head and you can see the rage that was simmering under the surface, come through. It was one of those moments that made you realize that not only does Tom have a secret, it is likely a dangerous and violent one.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I enjoyed A History of Violence. It is a well acted and well directed film that moves along slowly, and at times in an obvious direction, but the performances are so outstanding that you won't be able to take your eyes of the screen.
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