A History of Violence looks and feels like your average everyday thriller with an all-star cast. However, once you start watching it, it turns into a much more powerful beast. It cleverly avoids the most popular genre cliches, leaning into the ones it uses. The story is at the same time very juicy and almost action-like but also thought-provoking. It explores familiar themes and the main one among them is the All-American nuclear family. We will be following one that’s about to be tested to its limits when Tom reluctantly reveals some details from his past.
There are two reasons why this movie feels so different. Firstly, it’s based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. This is the pulpy part of the equation. And secondly, it’s directed by none other than David Cronenberg. Mr. Cronenberg did know that the basis for this movie comes from a graphic novel before he signed on to direct it. He doesn’t like graphic novels and perhaps this is why he made such a good graphic novel adaptation. His career has taken him in various directions, from full-on horror movies like Scanners and The Fly to more exploratory thrillers and fantasies like Crash and Naked Lunch.
Now he has made a strange noir movie that feels like a standard issue thriller with a familiar setting and familiar story. However, all that is just the setting for the main event: the struggle within. Fascinated with perceptions of self and others, Cronenberg tells a story of a man with a history of violence, asking the question: can this be forgiven or forgotten? Or both?
Millbrook, Indiana is a sleepy little town, a definition of the American Dream. A place where you can settle down and start thinking about family and life in general. Tom Stall did exactly that when he came here. He opened the diner, got married and now he’s living a quiet life with his wife and two children. However, one day, two mean-looking men will enter his diner and everything will change.
I already mentioned an all-star cast led by magnificent Viggo, but I have to mention William Hurt again. He was so good here that one scene with almost ten minutes of screen time landed him an Oscar nomination for this film for Best Supporting Actor. ’nuff said. Under the lively Conenberg’s eye, everybody was working as a team to get to this atmosphere that he’s so famous for. And that happens here almost instantaneously. If you liked this vibe, you might wanna check out Eastern Promises, another Cronenberg “regular” movie, again starring Viggo Mortensen.
The concept of that hidden power, that unseen certainty and skill is fascinating. This is because most people would not be acting this way if they found themselves in a violent situation. If you had experience, a lot of experience, with those situations, logically, you would be calmer and more calculated than your average man. However, you have to carry this shit in your every day and every minute, although everything is perfectly calm and fine. Such a burden weighs heavily on a man. But it also gives him a feeling of confidence. Although we might argue that in this case, the situation is more complex.
This examination of what it means to be violent and how people deal with it is what makes this movie tick. So, you might call A History of Violence a rather intriguing character study. Interacting with his wife, daughter, neighbors, friends, enemies, and people who want to beat the shit out of him, Tom is trying to remain the same Tom he has always been…
Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: John Wagner, Vince Locke, Josh Olson
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Stephen McHattie
Fun Stuff: Thomas Jane and Harrison Ford turned down the role of Tom Stall.
IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0399146/