Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris
A History of Violence is a fine example of how a production
can be tempered to keep the story, action and delivery strong
without being overblown or over the top. While the underlying
themes of the story cover the inherent violence of man and
its effects on his family and community, great care is taken
not to present the story on a soap box or be heavy handed
with delivery the story's points.
The story begins slowly as we're shown the day-to-day simple
life of Tom Stall, who lives in a small Indiana town, running
his downtown diner and raising his family, almost oblivious
to the outside world. One day, a duo of traveling killers
wanders into the diner with the intention of performing a
violent robbery. Tom reacts to the threat by killing both
men. He's treated as a hero in the local media, which unfortunately
brings unwanted attention to him.
It doesn't take too long before a mobster (Harris) and his
thugs turn up. They make it quite clear that they know Tom,
but under another name. As they tell the story, he's a violent
member of the mafia from Philadelphia. Despite Tom's vehement
denials, the Mafia members continue to watch him and his family.
When they make a move on Tom's family, his violent past finally
comes to light, putting him at odds with his own family.
While the story is strong on the drama of the characters,
make no mistake that it makes a poignant example of how violence
seeps into every community. Tom's own past continues to haunt
him and when it rears his ugly head, its affect shows in how
his family reacts to both Tom and other people in the town.
Director David Cronenberg works wonderfully in creating an
all-to-real presentation of the events. There's no extraneous
shots. Every sequence and character has a point in the story.
The violence, while an important part of the story, is not
overdone with gore. When events turn to violence, it is shocking
and harsh, but not without a stark bit of realism that helps
ground the rest of the drama. Performances are powerful all
around. Mortensen is great as the strong man who does what
he must to keep his family safe. Bello does a nice job as
Tom's wife, proving both passionate and emotional when the
story takes a hard turn. Ashton Holmes is sharp and witty
as Tom's son Jack.
The core of the audio portion is much like the way the movie
is filmed - minimalist and strong on what is necessary. Most
sequences barely show off any of the soundtrack and focus
on the sound effects that pepper the film's world. Large stretches
of musical silence create openings that focus on the actions
and reaction of the cast.
A History of Violence is a strong drama that offers
a socially conscious concept without being preachy about it.
Cronenberg's direction is perfect for the unflinching realism
that this story requires. The cast's emotional connection
to each other draws the viewer into feeling for them and their
situation. If you really want to see a no-frills drama, then
do yourself a favor and check this one out.