A History of Violence

Dir: David Cronenberg, 2005. Starring: Viggo Mortenson, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt. Mystery/Thriller.
A History of Violence

Tom Stall is a peaceful diner owner living in a small town with his wife and children until one day a group of dangerous men show up, unwinding a mystery.

Based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vincent Locke, Josh Olson’s subtle screenplay is taut, raw and engrossing. Because the subject matter is so dark and without a hint of the supernatural, it would be hard to tell it came from a comic book. But all in all, it is one of the best adaptations from the medium to hit the big screen so far.

David Cronenberg, mainly known for making surreal work like Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch, delivers one of the best and most original crime tales of this decade. He directs the film with such creepiness and dread that it will stick with you long after it’s over. Cronenberg captures perfectly both ideal Americana and its underbelly with equal truth and originality. Since it pertains to the film’s themes, it should be mentioned how brutally raw and unflinchingly honest the violence is.

Director of Photography Pater Suschitzky does beautiful things with light and composition and really brings attention to the details of Carol Spier’s production design.

Howard Shore’s score is moody, intimidating and really adds weight to the film’s suspense.

Viggo Mortenson (Eastern Promises) gives a top-notch performance as “Tom Stall”—a mild mannered good-natured fellow who is believed to be a long-missing crime syndicate assassin. He plays the role with such conviction, that its hard to know who he really is.

Maria Bello (Payback) is fantastic as a wife and mother trying to hold her family together as dark secrets are revealed—threatening to tear apart all of their lives.

Ashton Holmes (Peaceful Warrior) plays “Jack”—a high school weakling who finds strength, as well as confusion, from his father’s unexplainable abilities to kill.

Ed Harris (The Abyss) is “Carl Fogarty”—right hand man for the Philadelphia mob. With his growling voice, scarred face and blind pupil, Harris conjures up a bulldog in a suit. Fogarty is a man with one thing on his mind—revenge and taking an eye for an eye.

William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman) plays against type beautifully as mob boss, “Richie Cusack.” While most actors would play the heavy with seriousness, Hurt is jovial and somewhat crazy. There is a twinkle in his eye that says he may break at any moment.

A History of Violence is not only a brilliant crime tale, but also an insightful look at America’s love of carnage and what makes a family strong when the chips are down.


A History of Violence was nominated for 2 Oscars:  Best Supporting Actor (William Hurt) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Josh Olson).

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Mar 18, 2009 12:17pm
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