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Paul Greenwood

Published September 30th, 2005 | by Paul Greenwood

A History of Violence Review

Classification: 18 Director: David Cronenberg Rating: 4/5

Tom Stall is a quiet, clean living guy, contentedly running his diner in a peaceful Midwest town. He lives in a nice house with his beautiful wife Edie (Bello) and two good kids. Aside from a bit of car trouble, nothing much happens to disrupt Tom’s life, and he likes it that way. But he becomes an unwilling hero and something of a local legend when he shoots dead two men who try to rob the diner.

This unwanted celebrity attracts the attention of three heavies who turn up at the diner led by the badly scarred Fogaty (Harris). Fogaty claims that Tom is actually Joey Cusack, a mobster out of Philly, something he dismisses completely. He’s Tom Stall, always has been. But Fogaty has old scores to settle with Joey and is insistent that he’s got his man, so much so that even Edie begins to question how her husband seems to be so adept at killing people. With Fogaty becoming an increasing threat to Tom’s family, and his son getting into trouble at school, things are going to come to a head. The truth is most definitely out there.

A History of Violence is David Cronenberg’s best film since The Fly and is, rather surprisingly, based on a graphic novel. Much like Road to Perdition, it betrays its pulp origins by trying to hang weighty themes onto a slim narrative that can’t support it so that, when all is said and done, it doesn’t really have a great deal to say other than violence begets violence. But as a portrait of the disintegration of a loving family torn apart by fear and mistrust, it’s cinema for adults at its most compelling and uncompromising.

Who or what Tom is, you should be left to find out for yourself. He’s already a man of few words, and it’s the pained, wordless glances that he exchanges with Edie that communicate the most, reinforced by the very deliberate change in tone from the bucolic opening to the carnage of the final act. Cronenberg himself has, let’s not forget, a history of violence, and some of his blood work here is astonishing. His determination to show us the full consequences of a shooting delivers some of the most gruesome images this side of a horror movie.

Come for the action, but stay for the acting. Harris is simply mesmerising, at no time allowing his gouged-eye makeup job to do the performing for him. Instead his quiet menace and ironic delivery create a thoroughly memorable character. Hurt turns up late in a key role and is a hoot, hamming it a bit, but still giving us some of his best stuff in years. The beating pulse of the movie comes from Bello and Mortensen, both of whom are award worthy. Viggo might have had a haircut since his middle earth days, but he’s lost none of his power. Look into his eyes, you’ll see his soul.


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