A History of Violence

by Alan Rapp on December 29, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: A History of Violence
  • IMDB: link

a-history-of-violenceA History of Violence is only 96 minutes long and everything you need to know about the film can be found in that amount of time.  It’s a streamlined and stripped down story that doesn’t waste a single frame or a single performance.  And for its short running time it is amazingly effective, disturbing, distressing, and haunting.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Edie (Mario Bello) own a diner in a sleepy little town of Millbrook, Indiana.  They are raising a son (Ashton Holmes) who is tortured by bullies but has been taught to turn the other cheek, and a young daughter (Heidi Hayes).  Their life seems idyllic until a pair of thugs attempt to rob the diner and kill the witnesses.  Tom kills both men with brutal efficiency that is unusual in a diner owner of a sleepy town.

Tom reluctantly becomes a town hero, but his fame also brings some unwanted interest from a mobster, Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), from Philadelphia who is sure that he has found Joey Cusack, a killer who disappeared long ago and who his bosses want found.  Tom denies any knowledge of such a person and Fogarty and his men begin to harass Tom and his family hoping to make “Joey” resurface.

Without exception everyone in this film gives their very best.  David Cronenberg creates an enviornment that allows his actors to provide the kind of gritty and raw emotion that feeds the story.  Mortensen has never been better and his scenes with Holmes and Bello are intense and overpowering.  Bello knocked me out as the wife who begins to question who the man she married really is.  Harris and William Hurt provide uncharacteristic, though perfectly cast, supporting roles as members of the Philadelphia mob.  Ashton Holmes holds his own with this group providing two of the film’s most shocking scenes.

The film is violent, bloody, and messy, though the two most violent scenes don’t involve the mob or guns.  It is a brutally honest look at the effects of violence and the ease which it can be enforced.  The violence we get isn’t stylized or glamorized; instead it’s disturbingly real.

It all begins with the long drawn out opening scene (it’s still a marvel to me that a 96 minute movie can have so many of these moments!) in which the two thugs have murdered the owners of a hotel and now are ready to move on when one finds a young girl.  There is no hatred, no malice, just a raising of a gun as he does what’s necessary.  From that moment you know there are no bounds, no limits to the violence, the film may be a brutally honest look at violence but it will be honest.

This is one of those films that just overwhelms you.  From the opening scene you realize nothing is out of bounds and anything can happen.  It’s an amazing piece of work that might be too violent for some but needs to be watched by anyone who loves great filmmaking.  A History of Violence is a stunning and overwhelming film that haunts the viewer long after the credits have rolled.

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