A History of Violence (2005) Poster

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One of Cronenberg's best and most accessible films
mstomaso9 April 2006
Cronenberg's adaptation of a Wagner and Locke graphic novel places a simple American family man, and his all-American family, into a new and disturbing context which has them questioning everything they think they know. Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) owns a little diner in a small town and has a nice house on the outskirts of town, where he and his wife Edie (Maria Bello) raise their two kids apparently living the American dream in their own way. One day at the diner, two murderers pop by at closing time for some cherry pie, and Tom's heroic defense of his diner, his customers and himself sets off a series of events that threaten his family, his sanity and his life. The eerie tension never lets up in this powerful examination of identity, honesty and violence.

David Cronenberg has directed some of my favorite off-beat films - the masterpiece Naked Lunch, Scanners, Videodrome. I have watched these films many times and I still find them interesting. I can't really call myself a fan, however, because there are also just as many Cronenberg films out there which I found difficult to get through the first time (Crash, eXistenZ, Dead Ringers). Cronenberg enjoys creating disturbing situations and imagery, and wants to get under your skin and to stimulate your mind on as many levels as he can. In most cases, he pulls it off masterfully, but sometimes, his emphasis on the bizarre can come across as pretentious and forced.

Like a lot of very creative and intelligent people, Cronenberg sometimes leaves his signature virtually everywhere in his work. And sometimes, a director needs to make a film which does everything they want to accomplish but leaves off the signature. For example - the brilliant David Lynch showed us his ability to jump out of his own skin with Elephant Man and The Straight Story. These are still very much Lynch films, but they also appeal to the wider audience of mainstream cinema-goers. A History of Violence is, in some ways, Cronenberg's most straightforward film. A key to its success is that it is very easy to forget that you are watching a Cronenberg film, no matter how aware you are of Cronenberg's many quirks, idiosyncrasies and trademarks. It is so masterfully directed that, although the plot is not entirely unpredictable, you are right there in the action with the characters and feeling what they feel so that, though you may know what's next, you never exactly see it coming and you never know how it will take you there.

Viggo Mortensen, in his best mainstream role since Aragorn, and Maria Bello (one of the actors who made The Cooler worth watching), head an impressive cast in this adaptation of a Wagner and Locke graphic novel. Nobody in the cast slips up at all. The script is intense, realistic, and probably did nothing to make the performances easy. The plot, if described without the plot and the context created by the script, would seem somewhat absurd, but like Woody Allen's Match Point, it's absurdity does not make it impossible to believe. Editing, directing and pure performance combine to make flawless performances for this cast. Backed up by veterans Ed Harris and William Hurt, and very strongly supported by the excellent Maria Bello, Mortensen is shockingly excellent in a difficult role. I can't explain why without giving too much of the film away. Although the rest of the cast did exactly as they were supposed to, I want to single out Ashton Holmes - an actor I was completely unfamiliar with but who I will look out for in the future.

I recommend A History of Violence highly. It is one of my top five reasons for considering 2005 to have been a great year in North American film.
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Cronenberg hits a deep nerve brilliantly
BJ Galler-Smith29 September 2005
I expected bloody senselessness and instead saw a film laden with the deepest human emotions. It was real. From youthful loving to hard violence, from simple innocent joys to the full depth of adult violence and sex, and ultimate redemption, this film has it all. Every piece of clothing and set, every camera angle and lighting propelled the story relentlessly. I was never bored, and never overwhelmed with overdone violence. Nothing was gratuitous. Viggo Mortensen proved he's one of the finest actors to come along in a long while. Maria Bello carries so much on her talented shoulders. With Mortensen she shines with alternately warming and heartbreaking truthfulness. Ed Harris was delightfully menacing, and William Hurt gave the liveliest and best performance I've seen from him.

This movie is about truth and redemption. It's the best film I've seen in a very long time. Kudos to Cronenberg, Mortensen, Bello, and all the cast and crew for what was for me a nearly perfect movie.

See it, then see it again. It's brilliant.
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Well, what did you expect?
xNINx2 October 2005
I read through a lot of these comments, and it seems quite a few people who have given this film a bad rating based their judgment on either the sex scenes, or the gore (or both). Well, it's called "A History of Violence", and it's directed by David Cronenberg! What did they expect? The film is, simply put, amazing. Anyone who enjoys Cronenberg's other films will greatly appreciate this one. It speaks on many levels, and I suggest seeing it more than once to fully take it all in. Beautiful performances all around. I felt as though that is how people put in a situation like that would really act. I had a smile on my face the entire film because I have been waiting all summer (or longer) for a film of this caliber, and it was worth it.
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Sometimes the Past Should Stay in the Past!
KissEnglishPasto10 February 2015
......................................................from Pasto,Colombia...Via: L.A. CA., CALI, COLOMBIA and ORLANDO, FL

A History of Violence is quite another kind of story altogether! A unique combination of action, drama, suspense, and crime coupled with a suspenseful, intriguing, most interesting, and, at times, even a highly original and touching story. Personally. I think Viggo Mortensen does a spectacular job here in the lead role of Tom Stall, a man who would just as soon have everyone forget completely his dark and violent past! Mortensen (Eastern Promises) is one of the most highly underrated actors working today…

Of course, I have a personal motive for taking a special interest in his career… Here is something I'll bet quite a few of you don't know about King Aragorn…He is one actor of an extremely select group, who was born into the English language and whose native language is English, but who has managed to acquire a very near-native ability in a second language, Spanish, so much so that he has played convincingly a Native speaker of Spanish in a handful of Spanish language films! Check out his acting filmography here on IMDb!

Just how does this involve me? Well, although I don't appear in films, in any language, I did not speak Spanish until I was 16…and now, after living in Colombia for over a quarter of a century, I usually pass for a native speaker!

VIOLENCE has a lot of other worthwhile things working in its favor. Excellent story and screenplay, plenty of suspense, and mostly outstanding performances turned in by other members of the cast…Especially William Hurt's award winning role. From me…VIOLENCE gets 9 well-deserved Stars!


Any comments, questions or observations, in English o en Español, are most welcome!.....KissEnglishPasto@Yahoo.com
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excellent, but not for the kiddies
gsygsy6 October 2005
This is, like all Cronenberg's work, a mythic movie. It occupies the world of "monsters" that Tom Stall's daughter dreams about at the start. It's as if we get to see the little girl's nightmare as the film unfolds. It's because of this poetic, super-real quality that criticisms from the "this isn't real life" brigade have no relevance. The screenplay is exceptionally tight and well-woven - no image is wasted. The subplot of the son's troubles with a school bully parallels the main plot. The very existence of the son is there to show the inheritance - the history - of violence. The sex scenes are there to show the proximity of lust and violence. The end can be nothing other than what it is: as someone else on IMDb has commented, the genie is out of the bottle. This is true for the family in the film, the society we see surrounding the family, and it's true for our families and our society. It's about the inexhaustible rage of humans. It couldn't be more relevant, it couldn't be more timeless. It is well acted and beautifully photographed. I have some minor reservations - did we really need so much of Howard Shore's music? - but on the whole I think this is a superb film. Not for the kiddies, however.
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The Sideways Drift
tedg10 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Shucks, the edge is wearing off some of my best friends. Herzog' s urges are in retirement, and now we are faced with an acceptable Cronenberg. Having him be acceptable to the mainstream makes him less acceptable for those of us that seek cinematic adventure.

Cronenberg's talent WAS in his ability to give us what I'll call drift between cinematic worlds. He'd create a base reality, a nominal reality and then drift into another, more radical one. My favorite is "Crash," because the drift is into a reality that the on screen characters create, and it itself is based on synthetic notions: car crashes made celestial merely because the victims were celebrities. This drift followed a sexual urge. Magnificent.

Also notable is "Existenz" where the alternate realities were similarly synthetic and introspective. In all of his great projects there's a sexual urge and expression that is ordinary but expressed in ways that appear perverted. Its unsettling.

Part of the joy in this is how our characters are sucked in, with a slight variation of the noir convention of a world that conspires against humans.

Now consider this. Let's set aside the perfection of expression. For what it is, it surely is competent. What's disturbing is how his notion of drift has been compromised. This time, it is drift from one conventional movie world to another, from the fiction of a happy family to the similarly artificial fiction of an invulnerable killing machine. There's no basic reality: it starts with one artificiality and goes to another.

The one it goes to is wholly conventional and could have been lifted from several hundred movies intact. There is sex acknowledged, but the drift isn't sexually colored, only displayed by two contrasting sexual episodes. The target world and how we get there is completely devoid of everything we used to celebrate in Cronenberg.

And. And we've seen these two worlds collide before, in "Blue Velvet," where the two worlds aren't just stations that characters move between. In that Lynch project, the two genres become characters themselves, seducing each other. Its a vision of the order of magnitude the old Cronenberg lived in.

Not here. Age is the devil. Our friend has drifted.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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A top notch thriller
yamar5 June 2005
I saw the film at the Cannes Film Festival. All I have to say is: Wow. One of the best thrillers ever. It's refreshing to watch a film in genre that's so often full of clichés. Besides being a thriller, it also a smart film about the culture of violence. How it dominates our world. One of the questions the film asks whether one can live free of violence, even the slightest. In the film violence lurks in every corner and the characters are forced to defend themselves. Definitely my favorite Cronenberg film, also his most mainstream I might add. It's a modern Western and reminds one of those great Western films. As the title indicates it's a very violent film but guess it will be toned down as usual, specially the sex scene. All the stars are in peek form and perfectly cast. William Hurt makes a comeback to better roles. He was also great in "The King". It will and should get some awards at the end of the year from critics and etc.
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Straw Dogs comparisons be damned, this is a riveting experience that finds Cronenberg bringing his "A" game.
Spikeopath17 November 2008
We are in a a small community driven town, restaurant owner Tom Stall becomes the hero of the town when he shoots and kills two murdering robbers at the restaurant. Not long after, facially scarred Carl Fogarty arrives in town proclaiming that Tom is actually a former gangster from Philadelphia who needs to go back to pay his dues. As Fogarty and his Hench Men put the pressure on, Stall and his family are in danger of being overwhelmed with violence and mistrust.

One thing that can never be said about David Cronenberg is that he is a very predictable director, his output of course, if we are all honest, is very up and down, bewildering critics and fans in equal measure. Thankfully A History Of Violence finds Cronenberg on particularly devilish form, taking the graphic novel origins of the piece, written by John Wagner & Vince Locke, and crafting a modern day Western that is using violence as some sort of escalating disease. This is the point surely? The graphic violence (handled with morose tension by Cronenberg) is the main character in the film, regardless of any past history that Stall may have had, the violence arrives into this family, totally unwanted and unexpected, and then latches on to them to maybe destroy them?

With that point of interest to note, A History Of Violence can be seen as a blood brother to Cronenberg's wonderful remake of The Fly, the unwanted entering the fray and spreading its disease to the point of no return. There is the use of the husband and wife's ongoing sex life as a seriously smart strand in the escalating story, where once at the beginning there is fluffy erotic intercourse, then the on going danger in their lives brings darkness and borderline sadism, it's very relevant, as is the son axis as he goes through a dramatic change when the violence and threats engulf the family. Cronenberg gleefully ties all the murky threads together to ask us for a reaction to the violence up there on the screen.

The cast, with the exception of a fish out of water performance from Ashton Holmes as the son, Jack, is fine. Viggo Motensen plays the duality of the role as Tom Stall with much verve, while Maria Bello shows exactly why she shouldn't be working for food in hopeless miscast assignments like The Mummy 3. Ed Harris gives us a nice line in villain duties, and William Hurt crops up late in the piece to almost steal the film with his darkly disturbing menacing point of worth. Peter Suschitzky's photography enhances the primary colours for added impact when the mood swings down dark roads, and Howard Shore's musical score is constantly ominous, where he blends his own score for Silence of the Lambs with a sort of Berlioz like edginess.

All in all it's a very interesting and sneakily crafty picture that above all else shows that when on form, Cronenberg still has very much to offer modern age cinema. Now, about Straw Dogs? 8.5/10
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Well enough done but not really interesting...
Polaris_DiB1 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
How one views a movie often deals with one's approach to the film. I made a mistake with this movie. I went in, having had difficulty securing a Cronenberg movie before, waiting to get an introduction to his style. I went in expecting, based on what I've heard about Cronenberg, a stylized film. I came in expecting a theme.

I was mostly disappointed on all three marks. What I ended up with was a fairly straight-forward identity thriller, and that surprised me.

Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a docile man in a docile world. Viggo Mortensen's style of acting, judging by Lord of the Rings, Hidalgo, and this film, is to whisper when he's getting dramatic. This works well with the film in that everyone in it is either just as docile as Tom, or trying to be smooth and stoic, which involves an outward appearance of docility. Tom Stall owns a café, has a good family, has no worries but that he can't get his truck started. Then some violent criminals decide to mess with his coworkers during closing, and he shows a side of himself nobody (in the film) expected: the ability to kill with relative ease. So thus the audience is in the search for his identity, who he is, and where he came from.

This film started many things and decided to give them up. At first it seems a film to look into the undercurrent of violence in even the most domestic of communities. Then it seems to be a film of mistaken identity and bad fate. Then it just decides to be another story of a man escaping a past he didn't like, and finding out that he can't... as in, what we've seen many many times before.

But it's a Cronenberg film. This means that it's stylized, interesting, and special, right? Honestly, I saw nothing in this film that struck me particularly as "something only Cronenberg could do." Sure, there's some pretty detailed gore effects, but they're sporadic, random, and worst of all, not needed for anything. Sure, there's some strange sexual encounters, but they don't really seem as anything except for sex, they don't develop the characters, they don't add anything to the story, they just exist in a sort of acceptable state of "Well, might as well find a way to show these characters having sex." They do reveal that Viggo Mortensen doesn't have that great of a body, if anybody cares about that.

Speaking of the writing, indeed, it doesn't seem real care or interest was put into the script. Nothing particularly new is given us, the dialog could have been cut and pasted in any other movie of this genre, and the character development was, again, straight-forward and unappealing.

As I mentioned before, I thought a large part of the lethargy in this film had something to do with the theme of violence as an undercurrent, but my mistake was thinking there was a theme. Even during moments when the action starts to pick up, it feels like the actors are really just sleep-walking through their roles. Only Ed Harris seemed to have any fun at all, everything else about this movie seems as though Cronenberg forced the cast and crew to stay awake for 24 hours before filming began to make everything seem lazy. Even the cinematography seems lazy after the wonderful long take at the beginning. However, stuff like the close-ups never really added to drama but more made me frustratingly want to take the director's chair and say, "All right, move back a couple of feet, give us some room!" It's not a bad film. It's just that the ending credits came up after an exhaustingly long ending sequence of no importance and I couldn't help asking, "Oh? So what?" This film is a good film to have some fun over the weekend with, but it's not really anything that can stick with you.

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In the Blood
jon.h.ochiai2 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
In the middle of the night young Sarah (Heidi Hayes) wakes from a nightmare. Her father, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) comforts her saying, "There are no such thing as monsters…" Director David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" questions whether human monsters are truly born or trained to be so. Based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, Josh Olson's screenplay offers a provocative answer. Though for Cronenberg and Olson , the power of "A History of Violence" lies in its character study. Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall is commanding and powerful as the center of this character piece. This is one the year's best movies.

Cronenberg creates the idyllic setting of a small Indiana town. Tom Stall (Mortensen) is a mild mannered and community respected family man. He has a loving and beautiful wife Edie (strong and smart Maria Bello). His daughter Sarah likes shopping for shoes. His teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is sucking as a baseball player and a target of bully Bobby (Kyle Schmid). Tom owns Stall's Dinner in town. Then one day ruthless killers (evil Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk) draw their guns in a robbery attempt at Tom's diner. Tom kills both like they are not even there. He dispatches them with awesome deadly force and brutality. His actions are warranted, and seemingly instinctive. Tom becomes a town and national hero. His photo even appears on CNN.

Soon after returning to work a mysterious man and his henchmen visit Tom in his diner. The man, Carl Fogerty (menacing Ed Harris), reveals a disfiguring injury and claims to know Tom, as Joey Cusack. Tom really does not seem to know Carl, and kindly asks him to leave. Things don't seem to add up regarding Tom. Carl later asks Tom's wife Edie "Why is he (Tom) so good at killing people." Cronenberg brilliantly lulls us in a sense of normalcy, then launches in a predetermined direction and tone. He hints at his answer with son Jack's explosive actions. Also his "A History of Violence" is a study of extremes, likely intentional. The violence is graphic controlled brutality, and merciless. The sex scene with Tom and Edie on the stairs is raw and erotic. Cronenberg also manages an unexpected resolution.

Viggo Mortensen is electrifying. He uses his classic good looks and understated charm to play the gentle family man Tom Stall. Mortensen also displays a powerful and explosive presence as Tom's darker persona. Mortensen is athletic and expertly performs the amazing martial arts and fight scenes. Maria Bello is awesome as Edie. Even with her glamor subdued she is stunning and sexy. Her Edie is strong willed enduring her own doubts regarding who her husband really is. Her reaction at the story's arc is both believable and heartbreaking. She and Mortensen have amazing chemistry. Ed Harris is calculated evil as Carl Fogerty. Newcomer Ashton Holmes is impressive as young Jack. His portrayal leads us to believe it maybe truly in the blood. William Hurt's turn in a pivotal role is unexpectedly shocking and completely effective.

Cronenberg has fashioned a fable about character and fate in "A History of Violence". This is one of the best movies of the year. Viggo Mortensen is simply powerful. "A History of Violence" is worth seeing and worthy of thought.
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