A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) lives a quiet life with his lawyer wife Edie (Maria Bello), teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) and young daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes) in the small town of Millbrook, Indiana. One night, during an attempted robbery in his diner, Tom protects his staff and clients and kills the two criminals in self defense. He is immediately dubbed a hero, but the media attention attracts a stranger to town, a man in a black suit (Ed Harris), who believes that Tom is the man who had wronged him in the past.
Review by Louise Keller:
A tantalisingly explosive film about inner conflicts and secrets, A History of Violence is a sublime psychological thriller in a western setting. Canvassing themes of brutality and gentleness and juxtaposing them is especially effective, taking us to uncomfortable and unexpected places. Director David Cronenberg skilfully delves into the darkness and duality of the human condition, immersing us so deeply into these worlds, that we hardly have time to take a breath. The story is loosely based on a graphic novel, which in the hands of writer Josh Olsen simply flows with street smartness, sensitivity and wit. And in the performance of his career, Viggo Mortensen makes the impossible seem easy, as he conveys everything through his eyes. There's love, hate, compassion, torment and much, much more. If there's a language for eyes, Mortensen is the ultimate linguist. The film's final shot, in which not a single word is spoken, is the film's most lingering ... and powerful.
The short and brilliantly concise prologue sets up depth and darkness before we meet Mortensen's Tom, loving husband, caring father and responsible provider for his family. Marriage to Maria Bello's strongly grounded Edie is no dull routine and they enjoy sex with playful lust. When violence is imminent in his diner, Tom reacts instinctively, first throwing a pot of hot coffee, lunging for one of the men's weapons and shooting them dead. There is no glorifying the deed: we see the horror as it is. With his no-nonsense manner, while gracious about the media attention when hailed a hero, Tom is keen for life to return to normal.
The confusion created by this one incident is magnified when Ed Harris' menacing one-eyed thug comes to town and starts to threaten both Tom and his family. Is Tom who he says he is, or is he hiding something? Seeds of doubt begin to sow in Edie's mind and the whole family dynamic begins to change. 'In this family we do not solve our problems by hitting people,' he tells his son after he is suspended for putting the school bully in his place. 'No, we shoot them,' retorts his son.
Bello is wonderful as the conflicted Edie and with her, we experience the full gamut of emotions as she and Tom skid of dangerously thin ice. As the story progresses, we meet William Hurt's manic crime boss Ritchie and his encounter with Tom is one you won't forget.
This is a story about extremes, from the graphic violence and the torrid sex to the gentle family life. A History of Violence explores the dark side of all of us, leaving us with pounding questions and uncertainties of who we really are.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
On the surface, A History of Violence is a strong, dramatic story about a subject that is a favourite of filmmakers: how the past is likely to infect the present. It is also a study in violence in different forms, from the vicious and evil violence of cold blooded murder, through the random violence of a hold up, to the violence of self protection and of course, the violence driven by greed.
In the pursuit of the story, though, David Cronenberg's film poses a number of challenges to the audience, including the relative morality of violent acts. Casting Viggo Mortensen as Tom, for example, ensures we sympathise with the character, especially as when we meet this character, he is a mild mannered café owner and caring father, loving, sexually active husband and fairly handsome to boot.
This is a casting choice that is underlined by direction; when Tom's diner is held up by two gangsters, we have been set up to sympathise with Tom's defensive but ruthless response. This is the moment that we have to take sides on violence itself, and from here on, Tom is the hero in the old fashioned sense.
In the end, A History of Violence poses a tough question: do we really abhor violence, or are there cases where we can make exceptions? Big question, and no easy answer. So it may be 'just a movie' but sometimes movies reach further than our funny bones.
Email this article
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (MA)
CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Heidi Hayes, Peter MacNeill
PRODUCER: Chris Bender, David Cronenberg, J. C. Spink
DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg
SCRIPT: Josh Olson (graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Suschitzky
EDITOR: Ronald Sanders
MUSIC: Howard Shore
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Carol Spier
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 9, 2006