A History of Violence is the first film of David Cronenberg’s I’ve seen that doesn’t’ fall into the Sci-fi genre. The film has an interesting story and some brutal violence. Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello both give great performances as the mystery unfolds. Even though there are a couple of moments where some of the characters get a bit bigger than needed, the film stays solid. A History of Violence earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) lives in a small town with his wife, Edie (Maria Bello),and their two children. When his diner is threatened by some thugs looking to make some quick money, he takes action and becomes a hero. The media coverage attracts the attention of people who believe him to be someone else.
When the film opens with a shot of Stephen McHattie and his criminal sidekick, I got pretty excited. He’s paired up with Greg Bryk and it’s not exactly clear what their deal is right away. They are on the run from someone, but we’re not sure if they’re good guys or bad guys. Until, that is, we follow Bryk’s character Billy into the Motel’s office. It’s confirmed that Leland (McHattie) took care of checking out by killing the maid who likely discovered the murdered clerk. To solidify how merciless these guys are we see Billy aim his gone at the remaining survivor. It’s a pretty shockingly violent opening to the film that then leads to our main character and his picture perfect, boringly normal family.
Sarah Stall (Heidi Hayes) wakes from a bad dream and her dad Tom comes in to check on her. It’s then that we see how 50’s sitcom this family is as the older brother, Jack (Ashton Holmes) and Edie all end up in the room. Each there to help the young child go back to sleep. This overly affectionate family moment is followed by another one at the breakfast table. The contrast of the opening sequence and the following sets the tone for the film. Tom is a family man that seems to be living in a fictional, far-too happy world. When we see Leland and Billy in the same town as Tom, it’s obvious there will be trouble.
Leland and Billy picked the wrong diner
In reality that’s really where the film begins, the moment Leland and Billy enter Tom’s diner. We see that Tom has some talents that seem to maybe even surprise him. He jumps into action to defend his friends and employees at the diner. This contrast of mild-mannered man and the man of action becomes the driving force of the story. How Mortensen plays the role is the biggest draw of the film. Cronenberg’s use of lighting and visuals really help add the effect making it an impressive film.
The final shot leaves the viewers wondering about the future. It’s an intense moment that really cements the story that we just witnessed. I will likely revisit this film in the future and pay more attention to Mortensen’s performance. I caught glimpses of the nuances in his performance, but I really want to look for them in the next go.