Spoilers will walk away.
Be warned, I might be starting a little late review series on David Cronenberg. That being said, this one is a rather strange film to start. You’re not quite sure if we’re going for drama or action. I know the answer would be more of a thriller, but it does feel like the movie started firmly in one camp and switched to the other. This, I suppose, is allowed as long as it’s neatly done. How good is the transition or how subtle the audience will find the change depends more on each person. I would say this feature lives up to its title in spades.
A History of Violence (2005) was directed by David Cronenberg. The screenplay was written by Josh Olson, based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. In a quiet little town, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) lives an easy life running the local diner. He’s happily married to Edie (Maria Bello) and has two adoring kids. One day, two drifter outlaws show up late in his diner and brandish weapons, looking for an easy score and ready for a bloody outcome. Reacting quickly, Tom manages to take out both and becomes a local hero. After his face gets plastered over the news, some shady individuals lead by the sinister Mr. Fogarty (Ed Harris) come to town, believing him to be someone they know from the past.
This is a little perplexing. The film plays up the old classical conflict between the good old school small-town country folk and slick and dangerous city criminals. “We take care of our own here,” says Sheriff Sam Carney (Peter MacNeill) to the city riff raff. But these guys are certain of what they say. They dead to rights have made out Tom to be a missing gangster named Joey Cusack from Philadelphia. As those suspicions erode the fabric of his idyllic life, we get to see how Tom’s marriage and family life fall apart. As this drama escalates, so does the encounters with the mobsters.
Eventually, Tom will have to make some tough choices against people that are going for his neck. What happens here is up to you to discover, but the story does seem to shed the warm country life feeling it starts with for a more action-focused violent outcome. That being said, I do give the movie props for its duality. We get a satisfying no-holds barred final confrontation for the source of conflict and an uncertain, interrupted and ambiguous conclusion for the character. It might divide some audiences, but I think it’s fair to say that Tom’s decisions did end up having consequences that he can’t escape from.
Strongly recommended as a thriller, albeit whether you can endure the focus shift from dramatic to action is up to you. I think it’s safe to say there had to be some violence in this feature and you should have been warned with that title. Audiences should enjoy it if not for the thrill at least for the spectacle. The finale that has both a final boss battle and a stunted epilogue might feel a little disjointed in tone but it does fit the duality of the premise. Whether we get to know who Tom was in the end is not as important as who he gets to be.
That will do for now.