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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.57%
Average: 16.48%
Pretty Bad: 3.3%
Total Crap: 6.59%

16 reviews, 86 user ratings

History of Violence, A
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by EricDSnider

"And a long, brutal history it is, too."
5 stars

The title "A History of Violence" works on at least two levels for the film it represents. On the one hand, we have a main character who may, in fact, have a history of violence in his life. But more deeply, the film gives us a "history of violence" -- the way it has always, throughout time, been an ugly, gross fact of life, and the way it shapes society. The movie is both a personal and general treatise on bloodshed.

It is a singular piece of work, too, directed by the weird (but never boring) David Cronenberg ("The Fly," "The Dead Zone") with coolness, control and precision. Even the most violent scenes seem to occur slowly and matter-of-factly -- not like a documentary, for Cronenberg is nothing if not stylish, but as if they are inevitable. The characters were left to their own devices and violence is simply what occurred.

Our subject is Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), owner of a diner in tiny Millbrook, Ind. He is the loving (and passionate) husband of Edie (Maria Bello), and devoted father of teenage Jack (Ashton Holmes) and little girl Sarah (Heidi Hayes). The Stalls' small-town life is so idyllic, and their togetherness so complete, that when Sarah has a nightmare, the entire family winds up in her room to comfort her. A bad dream is what passes for excitement around here.

Then one night everything changes. Two thugs enter the diner at closing time. We met them in the film's prologue, when they were the authors of a brutal scene at a motel. We know they intend not just to rob Tom's diner, but to murder everyone in it. Tom doesn't have the background on these guys that we do, but he intuits it. He acts heroically, kills both villains and saves the day.

He becomes a local and national hero. The diner, heretofore sparsely populated, is soon packed with customers. A naturally genteel and quiet man, Tom is reluctant to discuss the event -- he did kill two men, after all -- and even more reluctant to have so much attention drawn to him.

Another day, three different men enter the diner. They have East Coast accents and wear slick suits. They call Tom by the name Joey. They suggest he is not who he says he is, that he is not who everyone in town knows him to be. He calmly, even bemusedly, tells them they've got the wrong guy. The men's spokesperson, played by Ed Harris, asks the question that must be on the minds of everyone in Millbrook since the incident: "How come he's so good at killing people?"

This question should make the audience uncomfortable. When Tom defeats the killers in the diner, there is no question of how he learned to fight so well or to react so quickly or to shoot so accurately. We accept it because in the movies, mild-mannered people are always spontaneously becoming action heroes. People who have never held guns before have perfect aim, and men who have never fought outside the schoolyard are expert combatants. It's just how movies ARE.

But now the Ed Harris character (and by extension the film) is asking us to consider the real-life implications: How could someone so ordinary behave so violently, not to mention so efficiently? And are we so inured to movie violence that when it happens, we don't even ask questions?

The irony that David Cronenberg should be addressing such a topic is not lost on me. For more than 30 years, the Canadian creepmaster has demonstrated if not a fondness for violence, then at least a fascination with it. The most famous image from one of his most famous movies ("Scanners") is of a man's head exploding, for heaven's sake.

Yet all the gruesomeness in "A History of Violence" (which was adapted by Josh Olson from John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel) arises naturally from the situations, and it is not without its consequences. That is the point of the film: that despite what you see in the movies, you don't shoot a guy, watch him die bloodlessly, then call it a day. There are ramifications. The result of Tom killing those two murderers is that a few days later, he is up against three others. Later, there are five more. As hard as Tom tries to live peaceably, chaos begets more chaos. That's why he's so disturbed when his son Jack gets into a fight at school, his first ever. Once you open the door, it's hard to close it.

Cronenberg does a nice job bringing symmetry to the film. A scene of Tom and Edie's sensual relationship early on is balanced later by her animalistic attraction to -- and simultaneous repulsion from -- his new-found violent streak. It's disgusting, but at the same time, it turns her on. A strong, powerful man who can protect you from evildoers? What's hotter than that?

What's remarkable is that while the film has a point to make, it does it without a heavy hand. Simply on a visceral level, the movie is enthralling, with secrets, surprises, turns and twists, all in the service of a psychologically thrilling story. Mortensen is sparkling and unflappable as Tom, while William Hurt gets one devilishly comedic scene in what is essentially the Christopher Walken roll (i.e., the crazy bad guy who makes you laugh while he makes you nervous).

There are moments in the film that are grotesquely funny. But at other times, I feel like the movie is indicting us for being entertained when we ought to be horrified. The audience I saw the film with reacted with vocal enthusiasm to the violent scenes, and were just as audibly disappointed when the film ended on an ambiguous note. If they couldn't have more violence, they at least wanted an assurance that everything was OK now that the need for violence had passed -- a tidy ending, in other words. I think they missed the point, which was that violence has repercussions that sometimes can't be easily resolved. This is a movie where things don't happen the way they do in the movies.

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originally posted: 09/30/05 16:48:23
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User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell solid film cast is great 4 stars
5/10/15 stanley welles a gripping, cogently written and admirably acted work 4 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Hitman becomes cook in diner. You want fries with that? 4 stars
12/05/08 P. Yew Someone in the theatre I was in farted and stunk up the whole place. 1 stars
11/26/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
1/21/08 Wendell O. Maness John Gotti was a wimpy loser- wormfood now! Ha ha! 3 stars
10/29/07 mr. mike Better than expected. Ed Harris is amazing 4 stars
7/29/07 john anthony Loses its way in the last 1/3. Should have stayed in Indiana 3 stars
7/21/07 Harry Cronenberg is the worst movie maker in the world 1 stars
7/20/07 Jennifer What th fok was that! Sheer nonsense! Absolutely pointless! 1 stars
7/07/07 AnnieG Much too predictable; too little plot. 3 stars
5/22/07 R.W. Welch Doesn't quite ring true at times but shows some style. B- 4 stars
5/17/07 ES Enjoyable, depicts sex and violence on a satisfying scale 4 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold People rightly say that it's "multi-layered"; but damnit, aren't all films? 3 stars
1/26/07 kris It is a bit naive and overrated. But obviously tricked many, including pro film critics. 3 stars
12/17/06 Trey Thought provoking and truly dramatic. Great movie. 5 stars
12/15/06 T. McGregor This movie draws you in then implicates the audience in the gruesome violence. Brilliant. 5 stars
12/06/06 Adrian A masterpiece. Nails everything. 5 stars
9/01/06 MP Bartley Dark and troubling. Terriffic acting across the board. 4 stars
8/18/06 Seanboy A fantastic meditation on violence in our culture, superb performances 5 stars
8/14/06 Cosmic Conundrum Total Crap. Exhibits characteristics of a badly made Hindi Film. 1 stars
7/21/06 Frank Rountree Total crap says it all. Doesn't live up to the hype. 1 stars
7/19/06 Reklc Great acting, graphic violence- so what if the story is a bit bogus. 5 stars
7/17/06 mark incredible-leaves much to the viewer's interpretation and implication 5 stars
7/13/06 ad "The meaning" is way overblown. Shooting spree with no big surprises 2 stars
7/04/06 seldomscene do not read the reviews, it gives the plot away,watche it cold 5 stars
5/05/06 Indrid Cold A metaphor for America losing its innocence? That probably gives David too much credit. 3 stars
5/01/06 Agent Sands One of the most well-made films of 2005...or 2006. 5 stars
4/18/06 Jessica not bad, abit over rated, didnt like the ending , but ok for a night in with a pizza. 4 stars
4/10/06 Jung Texican Grossly overrated. "Experts" again assign profound meaning to an empty film - top 20 worst 1 stars
3/29/06 mike if a coffe shop gets robbed, don't be a hero or u lose ur secret identity! 3 stars
3/28/06 Y2mckay good acting, good action, but way WAY over-hyped 4 stars
3/21/06 Jon Makes you think... and awesome acting 5 stars
3/21/06 Peter The whole thing is as awkward and empty as the first sex scene. 2 stars
3/19/06 Monday Morning Nothing special about this flick. Very missable. 3 stars
3/17/06 matt overhyped, not as interesting as people say but still worthwhile. 4 stars
3/15/06 Rocky I really dug this flick, not a wasted moment in it and very thought provoking 4 stars
3/15/06 Shannon Robles cronenberg does it again! 5 stars
3/13/06 john bale Never overcomes its source material a comic, its too over the top to be taken seriously. 3 stars
3/11/06 jack different but doesn;t keep the interest up 4 stars
3/10/06 matthew smith a very impressive film, great performances 5 stars
3/10/06 Sumixam Not as good as they say but kills 1.5hrs ok 4 stars
1/19/06 ASC Excellent 5 stars
12/18/05 ownerofdajoint A frightening portrayal of a trapped man's inability to escape his predetermined fate 5 stars
12/05/05 Jeff Anderson David Cronenberg's strongest film to date & brilliant! Mortensen & Bello are OUTSTANDING!!! 5 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Cronenberg is a modern miracle. He's nothing short of genious. 5 stars
11/21/05 qemm the plot worth of a 70s kung-fu movie... movie about nothing 3 stars
11/09/05 Alice very very overrated, nothing new and even boring. 1 stars
11/07/05 K. Sear Reasonable but not as good as everyone is claiming. 4 stars
10/28/05 Aaron Smith Good film, fine performances by Bello and Mortensen. 5 stars
10/27/05 deadwiz Pretty decent flick, pretty graphic too! 4 stars
10/26/05 Sean Worst movie Ive ever seen. I know NO ONE who liked this 1 stars
10/26/05 Nick_Voro Part boring, cliche, and captivating. In the end a very interesting film but very overrated 4 stars
10/22/05 Christine FIdance Very glad to see Cronenberg back on his game, excellent acting, great movie! 5 stars
10/19/05 Sarah The most trite, poorly executed and absolutely pointless film I've seen. 1 stars
10/19/05 B-dog Bad acting,depressing, fake 1 stars
10/19/05 jeff good acting, simple story, bad ending, loved it 5 stars
10/17/05 Marc Bauman Excellent, unsettling 5 stars
10/17/05 Cinemaniac On the surface, it might look like a thriller, but it's really a meditation on identity... 5 stars
10/15/05 ROY L. CAIN JR. The legacy of Charles Bronson lives on. 5 stars
10/13/05 Koitus Good movie; better than most of the other cr@p that is out there! 4 stars
10/13/05 spielberg Very violent movie, psychologic plot just too thin 2 stars
10/12/05 Elizabeth S Pretty brutal. Actually quite a simplistic story but told well. 4 stars
10/11/05 b compact, no wasted film, excellent 5 stars
10/11/05 Ole Man Bourbon Cronenberg's worst. Ridiculous story, Viggo is a total dullard. Why the hype? 2 stars
10/10/05 bill crappy, pretentious, unlikely. no one in the theater I was in liked it, one bit. 1 stars
10/10/05 Agent Sands Perfect. A masterpiece in all departments. Timeless, timeless, timeless. 5 stars
10/07/05 kanye excellent film - could have been helped by a better ending. 4 stars
10/07/05 Louise McChrystal a little too much violence, but still a very well played movie 4 stars
10/06/05 Steve Michaud Wow. Simply... wow. 5 stars
10/05/05 ASF Overrated, cartoonish, lacks depth. Director was not up to the material. 3 stars
10/04/05 Elizabeth S Good performances, powerful, brutal film 4 stars
10/04/05 isawthismovie good idea for a movie but very poor execution of the idea 2 stars
10/03/05 laura gonzalez one of the best movies of the year! 5 stars
10/03/05 Patti Hughes I love this film twice. It is wonderful 5 stars
10/02/05 viggo mortenson did you people work on this movie? i can go online or on oxygen to find near porn whenever. 2 stars
10/01/05 astrotart Primo acting with a great story with just enough sex, violence and drama.. 5 stars
10/01/05 Suzz well-acted but predictable reformed mobster film less the final scene 4 stars
10/01/05 Kristina Williams That second sex scene....WHOA. 5 stars
10/01/05 The Criddler Cronenberg = Filmmaking God 5 stars
9/29/05 E. Northam Cronenberg's superb, transgressive meditation on violence's multiplicity of forms; graphic 5 stars
9/25/05 James Laczkowski Best Film of 2005 so far. Riveting, disturbing and suprisingly funny. Hurt rules 5 stars
9/13/05 Alex Brisbourne Possibly Cronenberg's best: great acting, good script, violence is a little much! 5 stars
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  23-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2006



Directed by
  David Cronenberg

Written by
  Josh Olson

  Viggo Mortensen
  Maria Bello
  William Hurt
  Ed Harris
  Ashton Holmes
  Heidi Hayes

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