A History of Violence-2005
Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Mario Bello, Ed Harris
Scott’s Review #1,016
Reviewed April 28, 2020
David Cronenberg has directed films such as Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), and Crash (1996), stories safely classified as “off the beaten path”. With A History of Violence (2005) he creates a film that on the surface appears conventional and even wholesome at the onset, a family drama or thriller, that turns sinister and bloody as it lumbers along. The Christian-like small Indiana town is the perfect backdrop to quietly inflict mayhem and terror on its characters. Stars Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris give tremendous portrayals.
Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives a quiet mid-western life and owns a quaint, little diner nestled in the center of town. He is a popular man and quite neighborly, befriending the many patrons who visit his lovely eatery. At his side are his adoring wife Edie (Maria Bello), and children, Jack and Sarah. If they owned a golden retriever and resided in a house with a white picket fence, they would define the all-American family.
Late one night, two men attempt to rob the restaurant and when they attack a waitress, Tom kills both robbers with surprising ease and skill barely blinking at his violent tendencies. He is professed a hero by the townspeople and the incident makes him a local celebrity. Tom is then visited by the frightening scarred gangster Carl Fogarty (Harris), who insists that Tom is a notorious gangster from Philadelphia named Joey Cusack. Tom is perplexed and vehemently denies the claims, but Fogarty begins to stalk the Stall family. Because of the pressure, Tom’s family life hits crisis mode.
As the film ticks along the plot becomes thicker and thicker as the puzzle pieces are rife with mystery. Is Fogarty merely a liar, holding a vendetta against the person who killed his men? Does Tom suffer from amnesia, having forgotten his past life due to an accident? Has Tom fled the criminal life seeking refuge and a new life in middle-America, safely leaving his troubles behind? Does the truth lie somewhere in the middle of these possibilities?
Bello is cast in the role of Edie, Tom’s loyal wife. Bello is a stellar actor and does a wonderful job in the complicated role. Far too often, especially in thrillers, the wife role is as lacking in challenge as it is in glamour. The ever-supportive wife must be a drag to play but certainly pays the bills. Edie is different, and as soon as the viewer has her figured out, she performs an action out of the blue that will surprise for this type of character. This has a lot to do with Bello’s pizzazz and acting chops.
I adore the setting of the film. A far cry from the bustling City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, when the action eventually flows to the city, the rural setting of Indiana becomes even more important. The quiet mornings, the imagined smell of fresh-brewed coffee, the crackling of sizzling bacon on the grill at Tom’s diner, and finally, crickets chirping in the distance, all provoke the potent atmosphere and surroundings that really work in this film.
A History of Violence (2005) is a superior film that contains excellent writing, the best aspect of the rich experience. A top-notch screenplay written by Josh Olson leaves the viewer not only with mounting tension, but the mysterious unknown as to what will happen next and what the truth is. Mortensen, commonplace in recent Cronenberg films, has found his niche playing complex yet humanistic characters, which must be a challenge for the actor and a splendid reward for the audience.
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-William Hurt, Best Adapted Screenplay