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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » A History Of Violence
A History Of Violence
New Line // R // September 23, 2005
Review by Shannon Nutt | posted October 9, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Despite what you may have heard, David Cronenberg's A History Of Violence isn't the best movie of the year – but it does tell a good yarn and goes deeper into character study than most thrillers in its genre.


The movie stars Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, a seemingly simple man who runs a diner in a small Indiana town. He seems to be living the American Dream – with a beautiful wife (Maria Bello) and two children (Ashton Holmes and Heidi Hayes). But one night a couple of drifters enter his place of business looking for a bit more than coffee. Tom is more than willing to give up his cash, but when one of the thugs starts looking for more than money – in the form of one of Tom's workers – Tom takes action and kills the two men in a hail of gunfire.

Tom's a hero, but his story has given him national attention. When Tom gets back to work not long after the event, a mysterious looking man named Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) enters Tom's diner and claims that Tom isn't Tom at all…but an organized crime member he knew back in Philadelphia named Joey Cusack. Tom denies being Joey – but Carl is persistent…stalking the Stall family until he corners Tom into a showdown outside of his farmhouse.

What makes A History Of Violence different than most thrillers is that the movie doesn't wrap up when a resolution to the Carl Fogarty problem happens on screen. Instead we get to see the impact of what happens to Tom Stall – particularly with his marriage. But the movie also loses some steam by providing an additional act – there's another climax between Tom and a character played by William Hurt (to reveal any more about him would spoil the film), but Hurt's character is far less interesting than the one Ed Harris portrays, and the movie might have played better if Hurt's character was completely cut from the film.

The acting here is quite solid – which may be why this film is getting somewhat more overrated than it should be. Mortensen does a good job of playing the "common man," while Harris is nicely smarmy as the heavy. Cronenberg does a solid job as director, although his horror roots show a little too much in a film that doesn't need them – in other words, the violence is probably a touch more gory than it needed to be for a movie such as this.

A History Of Violence has a nice ambiguity to the ending, which I really enjoyed, however there are no real surprises in the film. As Tom's character goes from A, to B, to C is his arc, I was never caught off guard by what he did or the actions of any of the characters in the movie.

So the bottom line is that A History Of Violence is a familiar story, well-told…which is not necessarily much better that a fresh story, poorly told. I'm still recommending it – as it's one of the best pictures currently in theaters – but it's not a rousing endorsement on my end. It's an interesting enough movie to watch, but one wonders if something really great could have come of this if the directors and actors didn't seem so locked into playing it safe.
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