A History of Violence

Release Date: March 14, 2006

What if you woke up one day and mobsters from the east coast were accusing you of being someone from their past? What if they threaten you and your family if you don’t admit to being the person that they say you are? This film simply asks, what would you do?

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a family man living in the small rural town of Millbrook, Indiana. Tom has a beautiful wife (Mario Bello), two kids and a small diner to his name. When two psychopaths cross Tom’s path one fateful night in his small diner, he did what any man would do. His actions launched him into the media as an ‘American Hero’, and brought a large flow of visitors into his diner ranging from townspeople, reporters, and mobsters.

One of the mobsters named Fogarty (Ed Harris) is absolutely convinced that he knows Tom, only he keeps calling Tom by another name. When Fogarty keeps insisting that Tom’s real identity is Joey Cusack from Philadelphia, neither Tom nor his wife know how to react. What unfolds is a history of violence for which neither the Stall family nor their small town are prepared. Tom Stall must face these men in order to clear his name, but which name?

This film is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same title by John Wagner and Vince Locke, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Coming from a person who has both read and seen A History of Violence, the story illustrated in the graphic novel is much better. I could not help but think, that this movie could have been very good if David Cronenburg (Scanners, The Fly, Dead Ringers) had 120 minutes and a screenplay that followed the novel. The movie seemed to be filled with long silent staring contests between the actors and writing flaws. The movie was also left without a conclusion, just ending with doubt and uncertainty.

Viggo Mortensen has seen better times, and I do not mean Hidalgo. The fact that William Hurt was nominated for his role as Richie Cusack for Best Supporting Actor, is bewildering. The plot never really explains the reason for Tom’s killing skill, and for that reason the film finds itself aloof to its title. The film portrays Tom as a mild mannered small town man who has the heart of an almost super human killing machine that possesses advanced lethal hand to hand combat skills. It is a bit unrealistic to show Tom, a man who has evaded his history for almost 20 years single-handedly killing three armed men with is bare hands. The plot and the character lose its human touch when you see a brutally violent Tom switch to Joey and kill with an almost bloodthirsty pleasure.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, the DVD actually includes a lot of really cool special features. There is a feature that takes time to explore and dissect the graphic “making of” for each violent scene is interesting. Cronenburg also shows the difference between the American vs. European versions of the film’s release. The fact that I read the novel first may have tainted my movie-going experience, but that still does not change the fact that A History of Violence is a better read than it is a DVD. Feature film run time, 96 minutes. Time it took me to read the graphic novel A History of Violence by John Wagner and Vince Locke, about 90 minutes. Which one was worth my time? I would rather have the graphic novel.

The Upside:
Rated R for “Brutal Violence” and “Graphic Sexuality”
The Downside:
An almost over the top portrayal of Tom/Joey.
On the Side:
The surnames given to the bad guys at the beginning of the film (Leland and Orser) are a reference to character actor Leland Orser (perpetrator of “Lust” in Se7en)

Making the Grade:
The Film: C
The Delivery: C
The Extras: B
Overall: C+

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