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A History of Violence Review

By Joe Lozito

Hero Sum Game

After a string of above-average horror flicks ("Videodrome", "The Dead Zone", "The Fly"), director David Cronenberg fell into a slump with overly-indulgent claptrap like 1999's "eXistenZ" and 1996's "Crash." Like Sam Raimi maturing from "Evil Dead" to "A Simple Plan", however, Mr. Cronenberg shows a surprisingly contemplative bent in "A History Violence."

The film follows Tom Stall, a small town diner owner who is forced to defend himself when he is held at gunpoint by some out of town thugs. Tom's startlingly brutal act of self-defense makes him a town hero, a spotlight in which he is not comfortable. Before long, reporters flock to his door and his diner is overrun with customers trying to get a look at the local legend. Tom's new-found celebrity sparks the attention of the fiendish Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris, deliciously evil), a man who insists he knows why Tom has a way with lethal force. As Tom tries to return his life to some semblance of normalcy, Fogarty's presence begins to get the better of him. A confrontation, it would seem, is inevitable.

Happily writer Josh Olson, adapting the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, doesn't milk the "is he or isn't he" question for too long. The film spins off in another direction, becoming more of a meditation on identity and past deeds. Maria Bello continues a string of fine performances as Tom's patient but not passive wife. Relative-newcomer Ashton Holmes gives a surprisingly effective turn as Tom's confused son. And Ed Harris, of course, is always a treat.

But it's Viggo Mortensen who must hold the film together as Tom. Wisely choosing to follow the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy with a quiet, character-driven piece, Mr. Mortensen is able to flex his acting chops a bit. Early in the film, he is restrained almost to the point of caricature, but there is something lurking beneath the surface of this performance which serves the character well.

William Hurt, who's been on auto-pilot for far too long now (he's in the running to become the next Donald Sutherland; what happened to the actor from "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Broadcast News"?), shows up late in the film and nearly derails it entirely, but Mr. Mortensen and the sparse, intelligent script hold it together.

"History of Violence" marks a return to form for David Cronenberg, but it's not the form we would have thought from his past. Perhaps that's what attracted him to this film; you can't judge a man by his history.

What did you think?

Movie title A History of Violence
Release year 2005
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Director David Cronenberg's slow-moving meditation on violence and identity features some fine performances by Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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