A History of Violence is a 2005 thriller directed by David Cronenberg. It stars Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, an owner of a small town diner. Early in the film, he is forced to protect the lives of some people in a diner when a pair of robbers appear. He ends up taking them all out, and ends up receiving far more attention for this act than he desires. Soon after, he draws the unwanted attention of a couple of people, who seem certain that the man standing before them is named Joey Cusack, not Tom Stall.
Wondering whether or not Tom is who he says he is ends up acting as the primary tension of the film. Now, this question does get answered about mid-way through the film, but that doesn’t stop the lead up to it being fairly entertaining. What happens after isn’t quite as exciting, but actually ends up being more meaningful than what comes before it. It’s not as exciting, but the film getting its message across seems more important than that, at least to me it does. A History of Violence also isn’t trying to make you feel good about being human. That really is the main portion of the film’s theme. It constantly brings into question the nature of humans, as well as how we manage to function in society, even given our tendency towards violence.
What really seems odd to me is how this message manages to make its way to the audience, despite the film never really making you feel for the characters. The characters themselves have some level of depth, and it seems like the filmmakers tried to make you care about them, but even at the end, you really don’t. It’s weird, as the main characters are all fairly well-developed, and you get a good idea of what they are going through throughout the entire film. The anti-violent message of the film actually manages to make its way into your head, even when none of the characters really do. It also feels weird that none of the characters really resonate well as, for the most part, they are well acted.
Viggo Mortensen especially plays his part well. Starting off the film as the pacifist family man, he soon shows that at the very least, he knows how to use a gun. Throughout the film, we see his inner-conflict, and Mortensen manages to convey this fairly well. For the most part, he is a mild-spoken, well-mannered character. This is the kind of role that seems to fit him very well. The other characters aren’t great, but they do their part just fine. The rest of Stall’s family is not on-screen all that often, but when they are, they manage to do their job just fine. I really enjoyed the small amount of time Ed Harris was on the screen, and he really got across his intentions to the viewer. He really does steal the few scenes he is in.
A History of Violence is a single-minded film that is stretched out far too long.
One thing that does seem off about A History of Violence is the fact that there really isn’t all that much more to it. It’s got one tone, and that’s about it. It also feels like the film tries to stretch itself out just enough to fill the runtime required to be a full-fledged film. This may be due to the fact that the film was adapted from a 1997 graphic novel of the same title, but the reason doesn’t really matter. There are certainly times where the film is drawn out too long, and the story ends up taking just a bit long to finish. Thankfully, the ending of the film does wrap up fairly quickly and doesn’t actually get into how the lives of the characters end up being affected by the events of the film.
A History of Violence is a single-minded film that is stretched out far too long. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still a good movie, but it certainly could have been better. The plot doesn’t have all that many twists, but the twists it does have are done well. The acting is overall fairly solid, with Viggo Mortenson and Ed Harris being the big stars. The film delves into whether or not violence is ever justified, as well as taking stabs at society’s fascination with violence as a concept, but this basically feels like a reason to show some of the things that it does. There isn’t really anything else to the film. It’s a violent drama that is well-made and, for the most part, stays entertaining.
Conclusion: A History of Violence is a good film that could’ve been great.
Recommendation: While it’s worth seeing at some point, A History of Violence isn’t a film you need to go out of your way to see.