A History of Violence (2005) Poster

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One of Cronenberg's best and most accessible films
mstomaso9 April 2006
Cronenberg's adaptation of a Wagner and Locke graphic novel places a simple American family man, and his all-American family, into a new and disturbing context which has them questioning everything they think they know. Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) owns a little diner in a small town and has a nice house on the outskirts of town, where he and his wife Edie (Maria Bello) raise their two kids apparently living the American dream in their own way. One day at the diner, two murderers pop by at closing time for some cherry pie, and Tom's heroic defense of his diner, his customers and himself sets off a series of events that threaten his family, his sanity and his life. The eerie tension never lets up in this powerful examination of identity, honesty and violence.

David Cronenberg has directed some of my favorite off-beat films - the masterpiece Naked Lunch, Scanners, Videodrome. I have watched these films many times and I still find them interesting. I can't really call myself a fan, however, because there are also just as many Cronenberg films out there which I found difficult to get through the first time (Crash, eXistenZ, Dead Ringers). Cronenberg enjoys creating disturbing situations and imagery, and wants to get under your skin and to stimulate your mind on as many levels as he can. In most cases, he pulls it off masterfully, but sometimes, his emphasis on the bizarre can come across as pretentious and forced.

Like a lot of very creative and intelligent people, Cronenberg sometimes leaves his signature virtually everywhere in his work. And sometimes, a director needs to make a film which does everything they want to accomplish but leaves off the signature. For example - the brilliant David Lynch showed us his ability to jump out of his own skin with Elephant Man and The Straight Story. These are still very much Lynch films, but they also appeal to the wider audience of mainstream cinema-goers. A History of Violence is, in some ways, Cronenberg's most straightforward film. A key to its success is that it is very easy to forget that you are watching a Cronenberg film, no matter how aware you are of Cronenberg's many quirks, idiosyncrasies and trademarks. It is so masterfully directed that, although the plot is not entirely unpredictable, you are right there in the action with the characters and feeling what they feel so that, though you may know what's next, you never exactly see it coming and you never know how it will take you there.

Viggo Mortensen, in his best mainstream role since Aragorn, and Maria Bello (one of the actors who made The Cooler worth watching), head an impressive cast in this adaptation of a Wagner and Locke graphic novel. Nobody in the cast slips up at all. The script is intense, realistic, and probably did nothing to make the performances easy. The plot, if described without the plot and the context created by the script, would seem somewhat absurd, but like Woody Allen's Match Point, it's absurdity does not make it impossible to believe. Editing, directing and pure performance combine to make flawless performances for this cast. Backed up by veterans Ed Harris and William Hurt, and very strongly supported by the excellent Maria Bello, Mortensen is shockingly excellent in a difficult role. I can't explain why without giving too much of the film away. Although the rest of the cast did exactly as they were supposed to, I want to single out Ashton Holmes - an actor I was completely unfamiliar with but who I will look out for in the future.

I recommend A History of Violence highly. It is one of my top five reasons for considering 2005 to have been a great year in North American film.
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A Film Of Three Acts
Theo Robertson11 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I came in to this film knowing absolutely nothing about it apart it being directed by David Cronenberg and it receiving a fair amount of critical acclaim on it's initial release . This isn't necessarily a bad thing because at the heart of the story is the mystery surrounding protagonist Tom Stall who becomes an unwilling hero when two armed robbers walk in to his restaurant one night . At this point I was expecting to see a film dealing with a reluctant hero finding themselves trying to cope with celebrity culture and having a reputation that other lesser mortals want to test in the most basic and violent form ie " Let's see if tough guy Tom Stall is really that tough "

Viggo Mortenson plays Stall in his usual convincingly understated manner and one wonders why he isn't a bigger name in Hollywood ? Possibly because he's an actor rather than a star and doesn't Stall in a showey manner , just an average family man wanting to get on with his life and the film does emphasise his everyman nature . The film does three distinct acts , Tom the family man , the mystery involving Tom and finally the showdown featuring Tom the man with a violent past

The problem is that the first third is slightly slow which isn't necessarily a criticism , the second third is very intriguing and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats but the final third is fairly daft . Fair enough it's not too difficult to buy in to the idea that Tom was once involved with the mob but the violent climax at the home of mob boss Richie Cusack is rather ridiculous as he dispatches bad guys who in these type of movies stand around watching their colleagues get beaten to a pulp and not intervening till the good guy manages to get hold of a gun and only then does the bad guy pull out his own shooter only to get shot by the good guy . You've seen this all too often in straight to DVD releases and for two thirds of the way through you're aware that this is too far good to be anywhere near a Steven Seagal straight to DVD movie
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Cronenberg hits a deep nerve brilliantly
BJ Galler-Smith29 September 2005
I expected bloody senselessness and instead saw a film laden with the deepest human emotions. It was real. From youthful loving to hard violence, from simple innocent joys to the full depth of adult violence and sex, and ultimate redemption, this film has it all. Every piece of clothing and set, every camera angle and lighting propelled the story relentlessly. I was never bored, and never overwhelmed with overdone violence. Nothing was gratuitous. Viggo Mortensen proved he's one of the finest actors to come along in a long while. Maria Bello carries so much on her talented shoulders. With Mortensen she shines with alternately warming and heartbreaking truthfulness. Ed Harris was delightfully menacing, and William Hurt gave the liveliest and best performance I've seen from him.

This movie is about truth and redemption. It's the best film I've seen in a very long time. Kudos to Cronenberg, Mortensen, Bello, and all the cast and crew for what was for me a nearly perfect movie.

See it, then see it again. It's brilliant.
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Well, what did you expect?
xNINx2 October 2005
I read through a lot of these comments, and it seems quite a few people who have given this film a bad rating based their judgment on either the sex scenes, or the gore (or both). Well, it's called "A History of Violence", and it's directed by David Cronenberg! What did they expect? The film is, simply put, amazing. Anyone who enjoys Cronenberg's other films will greatly appreciate this one. It speaks on many levels, and I suggest seeing it more than once to fully take it all in. Beautiful performances all around. I felt as though that is how people put in a situation like that would really act. I had a smile on my face the entire film because I have been waiting all summer (or longer) for a film of this caliber, and it was worth it.
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Sometimes the Past Should Stay in the Past!
KissEnglishPasto10 February 2015
......................................................from Pasto,Colombia...Via: L.A. CA., CALI, COLOMBIA and ORLANDO, FL

A History of Violence is quite another kind of story altogether! A unique combination of action, drama, suspense, and crime coupled with a suspenseful, intriguing, most interesting, and, at times, even a highly original and touching story. Personally. I think Viggo Mortensen does a spectacular job here in the lead role of Tom Stall, a man who would just as soon have everyone forget completely his dark and violent past! Mortensen (Eastern Promises) is one of the most highly underrated actors working today…

Of course, I have a personal motive for taking a special interest in his career… Here is something I'll bet quite a few of you don't know about King Aragorn…He is one actor of an extremely select group, who was born into the English language and whose native language is English, but who has managed to acquire a very near-native ability in a second language, Spanish, so much so that he has played convincingly a Native speaker of Spanish in a handful of Spanish language films! Check out his acting filmography here on IMDb!

Just how does this involve me? Well, although I don't appear in films, in any language, I did not speak Spanish until I was 16…and now, after living in Colombia for over a quarter of a century, I usually pass for a native speaker!

VIOLENCE has a lot of other worthwhile things working in its favor. Excellent story and screenplay, plenty of suspense, and mostly outstanding performances turned in by other members of the cast…Especially William Hurt's award winning role. From me…VIOLENCE gets 9 well-deserved Stars!


Any comments, questions or observations, in English o en Español, are most welcome!.....KissEnglishPasto@Yahoo.com
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excellent, but not for the kiddies
gsygsy6 October 2005
This is, like all Cronenberg's work, a mythic movie. It occupies the world of "monsters" that Tom Stall's daughter dreams about at the start. It's as if we get to see the little girl's nightmare as the film unfolds. It's because of this poetic, super-real quality that criticisms from the "this isn't real life" brigade have no relevance. The screenplay is exceptionally tight and well-woven - no image is wasted. The subplot of the son's troubles with a school bully parallels the main plot. The very existence of the son is there to show the inheritance - the history - of violence. The sex scenes are there to show the proximity of lust and violence. The end can be nothing other than what it is: as someone else on IMDb has commented, the genie is out of the bottle. This is true for the family in the film, the society we see surrounding the family, and it's true for our families and our society. It's about the inexhaustible rage of humans. It couldn't be more relevant, it couldn't be more timeless. It is well acted and beautifully photographed. I have some minor reservations - did we really need so much of Howard Shore's music? - but on the whole I think this is a superb film. Not for the kiddies, however.
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A top notch thriller
yamar5 June 2005
I saw the film at the Cannes Film Festival. All I have to say is: Wow. One of the best thrillers ever. It's refreshing to watch a film in genre that's so often full of clichés. Besides being a thriller, it also a smart film about the culture of violence. How it dominates our world. One of the questions the film asks whether one can live free of violence, even the slightest. In the film violence lurks in every corner and the characters are forced to defend themselves. Definitely my favorite Cronenberg film, also his most mainstream I might add. It's a modern Western and reminds one of those great Western films. As the title indicates it's a very violent film but guess it will be toned down as usual, specially the sex scene. All the stars are in peek form and perfectly cast. William Hurt makes a comeback to better roles. He was also great in "The King". It will and should get some awards at the end of the year from critics and etc.
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Straw Dogs comparisons be damned, this is a riveting experience that finds Cronenberg bringing his "A" game.
Spikeopath17 November 2008
We are in a a small community driven town, restaurant owner Tom Stall becomes the hero of the town when he shoots and kills two murdering robbers at the restaurant. Not long after, facially scarred Carl Fogarty arrives in town proclaiming that Tom is actually a former gangster from Philadelphia who needs to go back to pay his dues. As Fogarty and his Hench Men put the pressure on, Stall and his family are in danger of being overwhelmed with violence and mistrust.

One thing that can never be said about David Cronenberg is that he is a very predictable director, his output of course, if we are all honest, is very up and down, bewildering critics and fans in equal measure. Thankfully A History Of Violence finds Cronenberg on particularly devilish form, taking the graphic novel origins of the piece, written by John Wagner & Vince Locke, and crafting a modern day Western that is using violence as some sort of escalating disease. This is the point surely? The graphic violence (handled with morose tension by Cronenberg) is the main character in the film, regardless of any past history that Stall may have had, the violence arrives into this family, totally unwanted and unexpected, and then latches on to them to maybe destroy them?

With that point of interest to note, A History Of Violence can be seen as a blood brother to Cronenberg's wonderful remake of The Fly, the unwanted entering the fray and spreading its disease to the point of no return. There is the use of the husband and wife's ongoing sex life as a seriously smart strand in the escalating story, where once at the beginning there is fluffy erotic intercourse, then the on going danger in their lives brings darkness and borderline sadism, it's very relevant, as is the son axis as he goes through a dramatic change when the violence and threats engulf the family. Cronenberg gleefully ties all the murky threads together to ask us for a reaction to the violence up there on the screen.

The cast, with the exception of a fish out of water performance from Ashton Holmes as the son, Jack, is fine. Viggo Motensen plays the duality of the role as Tom Stall with much verve, while Maria Bello shows exactly why she shouldn't be working for food in hopeless miscast assignments like The Mummy 3. Ed Harris gives us a nice line in villain duties, and William Hurt crops up late in the piece to almost steal the film with his darkly disturbing menacing point of worth. Peter Suschitzky's photography enhances the primary colours for added impact when the mood swings down dark roads, and Howard Shore's musical score is constantly ominous, where he blends his own score for Silence of the Lambs with a sort of Berlioz like edginess.

All in all it's a very interesting and sneakily crafty picture that above all else shows that when on form, Cronenberg still has very much to offer modern age cinema. Now, about Straw Dogs? 8.5/10
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Well enough done but not really interesting...
Polaris_DiB1 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
How one views a movie often deals with one's approach to the film. I made a mistake with this movie. I went in, having had difficulty securing a Cronenberg movie before, waiting to get an introduction to his style. I went in expecting, based on what I've heard about Cronenberg, a stylized film. I came in expecting a theme.

I was mostly disappointed on all three marks. What I ended up with was a fairly straight-forward identity thriller, and that surprised me.

Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a docile man in a docile world. Viggo Mortensen's style of acting, judging by Lord of the Rings, Hidalgo, and this film, is to whisper when he's getting dramatic. This works well with the film in that everyone in it is either just as docile as Tom, or trying to be smooth and stoic, which involves an outward appearance of docility. Tom Stall owns a café, has a good family, has no worries but that he can't get his truck started. Then some violent criminals decide to mess with his coworkers during closing, and he shows a side of himself nobody (in the film) expected: the ability to kill with relative ease. So thus the audience is in the search for his identity, who he is, and where he came from.

This film started many things and decided to give them up. At first it seems a film to look into the undercurrent of violence in even the most domestic of communities. Then it seems to be a film of mistaken identity and bad fate. Then it just decides to be another story of a man escaping a past he didn't like, and finding out that he can't... as in, what we've seen many many times before.

But it's a Cronenberg film. This means that it's stylized, interesting, and special, right? Honestly, I saw nothing in this film that struck me particularly as "something only Cronenberg could do." Sure, there's some pretty detailed gore effects, but they're sporadic, random, and worst of all, not needed for anything. Sure, there's some strange sexual encounters, but they don't really seem as anything except for sex, they don't develop the characters, they don't add anything to the story, they just exist in a sort of acceptable state of "Well, might as well find a way to show these characters having sex." They do reveal that Viggo Mortensen doesn't have that great of a body, if anybody cares about that.

Speaking of the writing, indeed, it doesn't seem real care or interest was put into the script. Nothing particularly new is given us, the dialog could have been cut and pasted in any other movie of this genre, and the character development was, again, straight-forward and unappealing.

As I mentioned before, I thought a large part of the lethargy in this film had something to do with the theme of violence as an undercurrent, but my mistake was thinking there was a theme. Even during moments when the action starts to pick up, it feels like the actors are really just sleep-walking through their roles. Only Ed Harris seemed to have any fun at all, everything else about this movie seems as though Cronenberg forced the cast and crew to stay awake for 24 hours before filming began to make everything seem lazy. Even the cinematography seems lazy after the wonderful long take at the beginning. However, stuff like the close-ups never really added to drama but more made me frustratingly want to take the director's chair and say, "All right, move back a couple of feet, give us some room!" It's not a bad film. It's just that the ending credits came up after an exhaustingly long ending sequence of no importance and I couldn't help asking, "Oh? So what?" This film is a good film to have some fun over the weekend with, but it's not really anything that can stick with you.

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The Sideways Drift
tedg10 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Shucks, the edge is wearing off some of my best friends. Herzog' s urges are in retirement, and now we are faced with an acceptable Cronenberg. Having him be acceptable to the mainstream makes him less acceptable for those of us that seek cinematic adventure.

Cronenberg's talent WAS in his ability to give us what I'll call drift between cinematic worlds. He'd create a base reality, a nominal reality and then drift into another, more radical one. My favorite is "Crash," because the drift is into a reality that the on screen characters create, and it itself is based on synthetic notions: car crashes made celestial merely because the victims were celebrities. This drift followed a sexual urge. Magnificent.

Also notable is "Existenz" where the alternate realities were similarly synthetic and introspective. In all of his great projects there's a sexual urge and expression that is ordinary but expressed in ways that appear perverted. Its unsettling.

Part of the joy in this is how our characters are sucked in, with a slight variation of the noir convention of a world that conspires against humans.

Now consider this. Let's set aside the perfection of expression. For what it is, it surely is competent. What's disturbing is how his notion of drift has been compromised. This time, it is drift from one conventional movie world to another, from the fiction of a happy family to the similarly artificial fiction of an invulnerable killing machine. There's no basic reality: it starts with one artificiality and goes to another.

The one it goes to is wholly conventional and could have been lifted from several hundred movies intact. There is sex acknowledged, but the drift isn't sexually colored, only displayed by two contrasting sexual episodes. The target world and how we get there is completely devoid of everything we used to celebrate in Cronenberg.

And. And we've seen these two worlds collide before, in "Blue Velvet," where the two worlds aren't just stations that characters move between. In that Lynch project, the two genres become characters themselves, seducing each other. Its a vision of the order of magnitude the old Cronenberg lived in.

Not here. Age is the devil. Our friend has drifted.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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In the Blood
jon.h.ochiai2 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
In the middle of the night young Sarah (Heidi Hayes) wakes from a nightmare. Her father, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) comforts her saying, "There are no such thing as monsters…" Director David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" questions whether human monsters are truly born or trained to be so. Based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, Josh Olson's screenplay offers a provocative answer. Though for Cronenberg and Olson , the power of "A History of Violence" lies in its character study. Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall is commanding and powerful as the center of this character piece. This is one the year's best movies.

Cronenberg creates the idyllic setting of a small Indiana town. Tom Stall (Mortensen) is a mild mannered and community respected family man. He has a loving and beautiful wife Edie (strong and smart Maria Bello). His daughter Sarah likes shopping for shoes. His teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is sucking as a baseball player and a target of bully Bobby (Kyle Schmid). Tom owns Stall's Dinner in town. Then one day ruthless killers (evil Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk) draw their guns in a robbery attempt at Tom's diner. Tom kills both like they are not even there. He dispatches them with awesome deadly force and brutality. His actions are warranted, and seemingly instinctive. Tom becomes a town and national hero. His photo even appears on CNN.

Soon after returning to work a mysterious man and his henchmen visit Tom in his diner. The man, Carl Fogerty (menacing Ed Harris), reveals a disfiguring injury and claims to know Tom, as Joey Cusack. Tom really does not seem to know Carl, and kindly asks him to leave. Things don't seem to add up regarding Tom. Carl later asks Tom's wife Edie "Why is he (Tom) so good at killing people." Cronenberg brilliantly lulls us in a sense of normalcy, then launches in a predetermined direction and tone. He hints at his answer with son Jack's explosive actions. Also his "A History of Violence" is a study of extremes, likely intentional. The violence is graphic controlled brutality, and merciless. The sex scene with Tom and Edie on the stairs is raw and erotic. Cronenberg also manages an unexpected resolution.

Viggo Mortensen is electrifying. He uses his classic good looks and understated charm to play the gentle family man Tom Stall. Mortensen also displays a powerful and explosive presence as Tom's darker persona. Mortensen is athletic and expertly performs the amazing martial arts and fight scenes. Maria Bello is awesome as Edie. Even with her glamor subdued she is stunning and sexy. Her Edie is strong willed enduring her own doubts regarding who her husband really is. Her reaction at the story's arc is both believable and heartbreaking. She and Mortensen have amazing chemistry. Ed Harris is calculated evil as Carl Fogerty. Newcomer Ashton Holmes is impressive as young Jack. His portrayal leads us to believe it maybe truly in the blood. William Hurt's turn in a pivotal role is unexpectedly shocking and completely effective.

Cronenberg has fashioned a fable about character and fate in "A History of Violence". This is one of the best movies of the year. Viggo Mortensen is simply powerful. "A History of Violence" is worth seeing and worthy of thought.
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A Season In Hell
arichmondfwc25 November 2005
Yes, it made me think that if Jean Arthur Rimbaud had been a man of our times he could have been the one behind this film. Optimism through pessimism. The light of darkness. A contradiction that makes sense, that rings true. A mesmerizing film with a spectacular Viggo Mortensen. The truth is there for us to see it, the truth is going to be told but the truth has the flavor of a fantasy. It is the adopted life the invented one that is real. We're invited into this simple but startling reality guided by the masterful hand of David Cronenberg. The casting is a stroke of genius. Viggo Mortensen has the presence of an icon and yet he can disappear be invisible in the most magnetic way. Maria Bello, for me, a stunning surprise. I didn't know (I still don't) her work, I only remembered her name because she has an unforgettable name. But here she proves she's an actress of enormous emotional/dramatic resources. 2005 is not quite over yet but I bet "A History of Violence" will be among the two or three best films I've seen all year
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A gripping experience with complex themes
trez114 September 2005
I saw this film at a special screening in NYC on Tuesday. It is superb both in direction and acting. Both the sex and violent scenes are quick and direct. While the violence is quite graphic, as to be expected with Cronenberg, the camera does not linger on it at all. The real story is told through the emotional dynamics in the family as the plot unfolds. Mortensen's performance as Tom Stall is brilliant and wonderfully nuanced and the entire cast is first rate. Maria Bello as the wife and Ashton Holmes as the son and Ed Harris as the "heavy" are spot on. William Hurt's scene is a standout. There are moments in the film where you laugh and then are horrified within seconds. DC doesn't dumb down to the audience but enjoys the complexities of human reactions to issues of identity, violence and society's view of "good" versus "bad" violence. I still can't get this film out of my mind. I'm definitely planning on seeing it again when it opens widely. Highly recommended.
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An Unsettling Film Which Defies Description (nearly)
TheMoviehead7 October 2005
Leaving this film (just an hour ago now) I heard a phrase rolling over and over again in my head: "Wow. Wow". I cannot find adequate words to relate. I found myself saying "Why?...Oh my god!...How?...Wow...". The film touches, it festers, crawls all over and inside you. The film does (I think) what Cronenberg intended it to do; frighten. I'm speaking of real fear that is not spoken out loud, not discussed or screamed about,or even fully understood. The best and only word I have to describe the film is that it is "unsettling". I won't discuss the points relating to the sexuality of the film but will quickly address the violence. I read Cronenberg's answers to some questions raised by the film, most relating to the violence itself. He mentions that it is "intimate, nasty, brutish and quick" also going on at length on the utilitarian nature of the violent acts in the film. This is perhaps the first film I've seen to display violence in, what I consider to be, a true sense. It is over so quickly and before one can marvel at it, the guilt and terror washes over like waves in a storm. It's relatively refreshing, albeit downright sickening, to see a film that can still shock the hell out of what is thought to be a desensitized generation. That being said, one must remember that an author, poet, director etc. NEVER has the final say on what a book, poem or film's meaning is or what its symbols or set pieces are about. Each person in turn must have his or her take on the medium. I'd like to close with my final and wholly overriding thought concerning "A History of Violence": It is a film which I desperately wish to see again but equally compelling is the urge to never, ever see it again. Never have such strong yet equally conflicting views about something so trivial as a film entered my psyche. The rating of 10 is based on my personal experience with the film, not necessarily the merit of the film itself. You may interpret that as you will.
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one of the best movies of Cronenberg
dromasca29 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
David Cronenberg's films seem to be obsessed with the co-existence of the extremes, of bad and evil - in the same body as in 'The Fly', on the same highway as in 'Crash', in the same game as in 'eXistenZ'. In his latest film he seems to be saying - evil is here among us, it is dormant in any of us, it can be awaken and maybe put to sleep again, but at a price.

The story is told with minimal means. Tom Stall is a mid-age mid-business owner in a mid-state, the type of environment which is the fabric of quite and conservative America. One evening two killers enter his coffee shop and he does what any good American hero should do - kills them to defend his property and his co-workers. Having become a local celebrity, life does not turn to the good for him, as mobsters come to visit him, pretending that he is a hidden criminal, which he denies convincingly and intending bring him back to a crime life. When he again will do the hero act to defend his family his dexterity in holding a gun raises everybody's suspicion.

Viggo Mortensen is doing a remarkable act. His only previous big time role was in 'Lord of the Rings', but there is nothing here to remind Peter Jackson's epic. His role reminds more Bill Murray's 'Broken Flowers', he is filling the screen with a calm that hides intense feelings. Another couple of great secondary riles are being filled in by Ed Harris and Willian Hurt.

It's not a perfect movie. ALthough it lasts less than 100 minutes which is quite remarkable in today's Hollywood, it still has a good 15 minutes of redundant stuff, including a secondary story thread involving the hero's son high-school conflicts and two 'steamy' sex scenes unneeded for the logic of the movie. On the other hand the film ending is so memorable that I can already place it among the best endings in the history of cinema, close to the one of 'Casablanca'. 'A History of Violence' is worth seeing, one of the best of Cronenberg and one of the best of 2005. It's a shame that the Oscars seem to have ignored it totally.
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Great actors + Good director = Excellent Film
spacemonkey_fg23 March 2006
Title: A History of Violence (2005)

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Vigo Mortensen, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Maria Bello, Ashton Holmes


David Cronenberg. The name is synonymous with films dealing with violent and sexual content matter. Films like The Fly, Videodrome, Rabid, Shivers, eXistence, Scanners and Crash all deal with the dark, violent and sexual side of the human nature. Of course all those movies were sprinkled in one way or another with sci-if/horror elements. I personally became accustomed to seeing Cronenberg address his usual themes mixed with some sort of fantasy, yet here comes A History of Violence a film without a single creature, monster or decease to be seen. What is this new fiction less Cronenberg like? Do his films still rock without a fantastic element to aid them? The story in this film revolves around Tom Stall. A guy who lives a seemingly perfect family life. He has a beautiful wife, a cute little girl and a happy go lucky teenager. He has his own little diner in a small town in the middle of hickville USA. Basically the guy lives a quiet happy life with his family and friends. But one day a pair of certified evil doers walk into his diner and decide to rob the place. Things get a little hairy when Toms heroics make him an instant celebrity and a part of his hidden past begins to resurface.

The strength in this movie are the incredible performances. We have a very strong cast filled with seasoned veterans that bring these characters to life. Viggo Mortensen does good as Tom, the guy you'd love to have as a neighbor or a boss. The all around nice guy. Of course the guy has a dark hidden side to him and Mortensen played well the role of a guy trying to repress those darker impulses. Ed Harris playing a gangster type in search for Tom does a very memorable job as one of the villains in the film. He truly devours this role and portrays a cool and calculating villain who means business. And in this movie we don't get just one memorable villain but two, since in an interesting turn of events William Hurt actually plays a villain in this film. I'm used to seeing Hurt play the nice guy, the caring father not the cold hearted villain. And this makes the character all the more interesting.

Maria Bello as Toms wife did a fine performance as a sexy wife who will go out of her way to make her man happy. Even doing some role playing games when in bed. If you're a guy, you'll love the scene where she dresses up as a cheerleader to make Tom feel like he is a teenager all over again. And speaking of teenagers, Ashton Holmes playing Toms son did a very good performance as well as a kid trying to avoid violence in school, but ultimately succumbing to it. So all in all we get some really good performances from everybody involved.

And how about that good old fashion Cronenberg violence? Well it is toned down in this film when compared to the all the gore seen in his previous films. This movie focuses more on its themes and story and performances then in shocking you with its gore. But when violence does occur its very significant and yes, still shocking. Like the short controlled burst of a machine gun, in this flick, Cronenberg controls the levels of violence, but when he does fire them at us, the are just as shocking as anything he has ever done. There are some truly intense moments on this one.

This is one of Cronenbergs best films. And this comes from a guy who has seen almost all of his films. This movie demonstrates a sure steady hand in storytelling. This is one dose of sex and violence you wont want to miss. Nothing bad to report on this one.

Rating: 5 out of 5
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complete and utter unmitigated rubbish
dud-sounds29 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
i didn't realise this was a Cronenberg movie until after it had finished. in fact, i didn't know much about the movie at all, but after some good recommendations from friends i was quite looking forward to it. rest assured, from now on, i will never listen to another word those friends say regarding movies! the only way i can describe this picture without swearing is a mess... in fact, it was so bad it encouraged me to sign up to IMDb so i could express just how painful an experience watching 'a history of violence' was!

the film started (by this i mean the opening scene) promisingly i thought, with a nice long drawn-out opening shot and some distant, spacey acting. it also hinted somewhat of the nastiness to come. the quality of the film then immediately reared its head in the following 'child wakes up from nightmare' scene...

(possible SPOILER, but of the most minimal kind)

Aragorn/Viggo Mortensen - 'did you have a bad dream Sarah?'

pointless daughter character - 'yes i did daddy'

(son wakes up, enters pointless daughter's room)

bland son - 'what's going on?'

Aragorn -'Sarah had a bad dream son'

bland son - 'oh no dad'

(mother/bird from ER/that terrible movie where they dance on the bar enters pointless daughter's room)

bird from ER - 'what's the matter honey? did you have a bad dream?'

pointless daughter character (visibly getting bored now by the sheer length of the scene) - 'yes mommy, i'm going to sleep with the light on'

all - 'what a great idea!'

now, does a scene like this really need to last what feels like over three minutes?! i understand that Cronenberg's attempting to set up a semblance of the family's quiet life and how much love they have each other, but surely there are more subtle ways than this? now, i also realise that some may say Cronenberg often favours the more direct approach and tries to test his audience with occasional bouts of realism straight out of a comic book, but i'm sorry, just because he has built up a reputation of doing things this way (which on many occasions i've hugely enjoyed), does not mean he get away with sheer sloppiness of this magnitude. i thought 'Spider' was a great example of Cronenberg occasionally approaching his subject matter from a more 'considered' perspective, but precious little of that subtlety is on display in 'a history of violence'.

the acting, i also thought, was below par. Mortensen was okay, though it seemed like he was repeating every other sentence that came out of his mouth. perhaps this is trying to portray Tom talking for his own benefit as well as others, convincing himself of that things he's saying are right & for the best, but even if that is the case it just came off as downright annoying. Maria Bello should stay on TV, Ed Harris was... well, Ed Harris, and William Hurt - what's the big deal? he was on screen for all of five minutes and at no point during that period of time did i see him do or say anything of worth or, as some have suggested, amusement. he should have stayed on the set of 'lost in space'.

now, the violence and sexual content. put simply, i really didn't care. not at one moment in the movie did i feel any emotional contact with any of the characters' violent actions (and their reasons for committing them) save for - SPOILER - the son knocking the crap out of his tormentor at school, and that was simply because throughout i found the bully character so utterly pathetic and laughable that for all i cared he might as well have been put in hospital. END SPOILER - none of the violence really offended me. sure i was shocked in a few places, but that was simply because within a matter of seconds - SPOILER - one of the 'bad guys' had the front of his face hanging off. END SPOILER - so in this respect, Cronenberg doesn't hold back with, or indeed glamorise the violence, and certainly shows the immediacy and horror of it all, but to be honest, so what? it's hardly a difficult task to accomplish, especially for someone of Cronenberg's abilities. some of the sexual content also struck me as crass. SPOILER - now, don't get me wrong, i'm always down for Maria Bello with a completely untied dressing gown (in fact i waited what felt like years for that to happen in ER), but, in the context of the film, for the love of god WHY? so her and Aragorn get busy on the stairs in an odd 'what's going to happen' moment, then he's sitting in the bedroom, she comes out naked, closes her dressing gown and runs away in disgust. so now they can't have sex anymore. END SPOILER - does Cronenberg regard his audience as complete morons? or was there really no other way to indicate Maria Bello's feelings towards Mortensen's character? on this evidence, David Cronenberg is turning into Paul Verhoeven sans the wit.

i don't often say this about movies, but going to see 'a history of violence' felt like a waste of money. usually there's something in a film i can invest in, be it a character, the cinematography or even the score, something that actually going to the movies really accentuates, but this picture had none of the aforementioned redeeming features. that said, i probably wouldn't let other people's opinions form a basis on whether i shouldn't bother seeing a movie. all i'm saying is, if you have to satisfy your curiosity, wait for the DVD.
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One of 2005's Biggest Disappointments
TheMovieMark30 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Are you in the mood for a fast-paced, action-packed thriller? Well, so was I. Unfortunately, you won't find it here. However, if you were extremely interested in A History of Violence after watching the trailer and you're in the mood to be disappointed, then by all means, knock yourself out with this one! I simply don't understand why everybody is praising this one to the high heavens. I was looking forward to it, and I hate to say that it's simply the biggest disappointment of the year. It starts off on a promising note when Viggo takes care of the bad guys who enter his diner. For a few brief moments it looks like it's trying to be a well-crafted mystery/thriller. But once it starts inducing unintentional laughter thanks to scenes that look like they came out of a bad after school special or a soft core made-for-late-night-Cinemax film we realize that this is just a complete mess.

The sex scenes? Gratuitous and completely out of place. I have to believe that Cronenberg's desired reaction from the audience was NOT chuckling and shouts of, "Someone fast forward please!" And the acting of the secondary characters? Laughable. What was up with the high school bully? This Randy Travis/Patrick Swayze hybrid sashays onto the screen sportin' a nice 80s mullet and a flipped up jacket collar looking like he just tried out for a rejected pilot called Son of Fonzi.

Viggo's son isn't much better, spitting out completely ridiculous lines like, "Hey dad, they want to interview you because of what you just did!" Thank you, Captain Obvious. The lion's share of the bad dialogue goes to this cue card reader, and I sure wish I could expose more of it to you. Unfortunately, doing so would reveal too many spoilers, and I refuse to do that no matter how much of a letdown the movie is.

I dare you to try to avoid erupting into laughter when William Hurt's mob character appears and plays the cliché card so close to the vest that you're left waiting for him to say something like, "Youse wants I should trows youse a beatin'?" Were these supposed to be caricatures? The movie takes itself way too seriously for me to believe that's the case.

I started to lose all hope once the mystery that was crafted at the beginning produced an unfortunately predictable payoff, but I thought there was a chance we'd be served a nice big slice of knockout ending. Thought wrong. Viggo's fighting at the end is pretty cool, but it only occupied maybe 5 minutes of screen time. So what do we get rather than a slam dunk finale? Well, the closing scene of the movie might as well be called "The History of Silence" because the audience is forced to sit there and watch Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello just stare at each other for what feels like about half an hour. I'm sure plenty of turtleneck-wearing movie critics will find some sort of hidden meaning in their glares, but had I been at home I would've been trying to find the remote so I could make use of the friendly fast forward button.
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A clever, manipulative, well acted and highly entertaining take at the title-giving topic
Tinuvielas25 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
More than the average bunch of journalists showed up at the Hamburg press screening of David Cronenbergs suggestively titled "A History of Violence", eager to see the R-rated film that had caused quite a bit of discussion (and uncomfortable laughter at the exaggeratedly graphic scenes of violence) in Cannes. It turned out to be a very refreshing experience indeed. Although this is easily Cronenbergs most accessible film, one that may disappoint old fans but will certainly win him lots of mainstream viewers, it's still a long shot from the cliché-ridden thrillers one usually gets to review. A clever, manipulative take at the title-giving topic, oscillating between relaxed mid-western realism and the extreme, almost comic brutality one has got used to in the wake of Lynch, Woo and Tarantino.

Very minor plot spoilers in the following two paragraphs: "A History of Violence" is the story of simple, good – not to say good-looking, though his film-wife Maria Bello calls him just that, in a slightly ironic moment typical of the film's many Hollywood-references – family man Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), who's suddenly faced with a couple of brutal killers walking into his coffee-shop with every intention to wreak havoc. He rises to the occasion, surprising himself, his employees and the audience by deftly finishing the villains off, and becomes the rather unwilling all-American hero of the day.

Unfortunately, in the wake of Tom Stall's sudden fame, an evil big-town gangster (Ed Harris) shows up, black limousine, scar-face, bodyguards and all, who insists on recognizing Stall and mistaking him for someone else – someone with, precisely, "a history of violence" behind him. The gangster lingers in the vicinity, threatening Stalls idyllic small town family life, raising questions and suspicions. And of course, eventually, the situation gets out of hand…

What really distinguishes this mistaken-identity plot of the type "innocent-man-is-faced-with-violence-and-has-to-act" from other, similar films (Dirty Harry and many Westerns come to mind) is the way Canadian David Cronenberg manages to deconstruct the US-culture of visual violence and armed self-defense by seducing his audience to embrace that culture, to like his characters in spite of their brutal actions, to have fun and feel uncomfortable about it at the same time.

In addition to that, Cronenberg also takes his audience on a ride through the total range of human emotions from loving tenderness to blazing hatred, portraying every possible human relationship, each of which features an aspect of violence at some time – sexual relations certainly included, though those may not feature in full-length in the US theatrical versions... Man and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, boys and girls, old friends and young bullies – you get it all, portrayed by an excellent, carefully chosen cast of actors that manage to make their characters come realistically to life in spite of – or rather in juxtaposition to – the topical story.

Cronenberg in fact took pains to choose actors who aren't just charismatic, glamorous stars taking care of their image, but who have a reputation for embracing their roles, for being somewhat eccentric and therefore willing to go beyond the usual acting limits. Next to Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and Ed Harris, there is also William Hurt who appears later on as a criminal and who, quite obviously, really enjoyed his role. The final scenes between him and Mortensen are easily the most drastically violent ones in the movie, reminiscent of the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke this film is based on. They are also the ones that had the critics laughing – although it was the kind of laughter that sticks uncomfortably in the throat.
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congdean23 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I had high hopes for _A History of Violence_, since there were rave reviews and I love Cronenberg's earlier films, like _The Fly_ and _Naked Lunch_, but I cannot even begin to guess why everyone is raving about this one. It has none of the creative strangeness of his earlier films. Although the acting is decent, the lines are clunky, and there are big plausibility issues--and little ones, like a TV reporter who is completely foiled by "I don't want to talk about it" and a sheriff who says things like "We're good people around here." But maybe most importantly, the movie just proceeds dutifully from one scene to the next, where people say and do things that are completely obvious, that reveal no emotional depth, and that really have no purpose. Anyone who has seen the TV ads knows that Tom was probably once a ruthless killer and, yep, sure enough, he was. The revelation could hardly be less shocking, and the plot and characters develop in no interesting directions after that.
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A History of Violence is a stunningly intelligent picture.
killofquestion16 October 2005
David Cronenberg is a very accomplished director - what with "The Fly" (1986), "Naked Lunch", "Scanners", and of coarse "Dead Ringers" he has done a marvelous job directing numerous pictures with different subjects and genres. However all his films carry on thing through and that is emotional impact of events on the individuals depicted. "A History" once again follows through with that in images and feelings almost on par with "Dead Ringers". This is a study of violence, through an incident and how it's effects play on those affiliated with the committer. Viggo Mortenson turns in a tour-de-force performance as Tom Stall, without his acting abilities the film would fall under the weight of it's subject matter. The script is a wide, breathing, and alive, it conveys and allows every emotion to weave through it, without detouring from the main theme. Cronenberg's directing is as excellent as ever, and though some may argue this is his most "main-stream" film his style and presence is felt throughout. From the beginning lingering shot of the hotel room, you will be hooked and entranced throughout. The only negative thing available to be said would be that the son's (Ashton Holme's) acting is very stilted throughout and when he is set to deliver an emotional outcry, he falls slightly below expectation, especially amongst such well equipped and experienced actors as Maria Bello (Edie Stall). Howard Shore's score is very subdued, but it should be, and it elevates the ever encompassing dread and tension that is on full display through the film (aside from the beginning). All in all, I just must say great film.
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One of the Worst Movies of the Year
kayins21 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
For the life of me I can't understand what people see in this film. I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival. The movie is plagued with bad acting, bad dialogue, miscasting, and a cliché plot. I've read comments that the movie is introspective. But I failed to see an introspective moment on screen.

****SPOILERS***** The sex scene between Viggo and Maria on the stairs was realistic, but the sixty-nine sex scene, supposedly to show how into each other they were, didn't work. While it's a great position between partners, it looks ridiculous when trying to show intimacy. Especially when they acted like they were snacking on each other.

Maria Bello- Cast as a small town attorney. Miscast maybe. Her look speaks to big city lawyer but not small town.

Viggo- At least Maria tried to act. Viggo looked like someone was feeding him his lines from behind the camera. I really love his wooden acting when he tries to tell Maria that he thought he buried Joey a long time ago. It looked like he was going to laugh at one point. Plus it's hard to take a middle-aged man named "Joey" seriously.

Direction-Viggo's limping scene as he tries to race home to save his family. Crazy. Viggo snapping a flunkie's neck on his way out of his criminal brother's office. HI-larious. Or even the choice to have all the mob guys wear black like a vampire convention.

I could maybe forgive those scenes (or not) but I couldn't stand the obvious metaphor with the weak bully who preyed on Viggo's son. The bully was really a wimp at heart and Viggo's son was just waiting for his burst of motivation to take on the bully and his flunkie in the spirit of his father's heroism. Haven't seen that before.

But the worst was, no not Ed Harris hamming it up as Mr. Fogarty, but Viggo's daughter. She had to be one of the most grating child actors ever cast. She was horrible.

In summary, from the moment Viggo's family crowded around the little girl because she had a nightmare and all were there to console her (in Cronenberg's hackneyed attempt to show Tom Stall's initially perfect existence) to the end when Tom/Joey/Michael Myers comes home to find his family tensely sitting at the dinner table and little girl Sarah pulls out a plate to show daddy Tom/Joey/Jason X is still part of the family, the movie was a complete package of one terribly directed cliché after another.
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A History of atrocious film making
j-lindie7 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I cannot believe that people who have actually gone to watch this movie and are leaving positive reviews are actually leading their lives without the aid of a white stick and Labrador! It is easily one of the worst films I have ever seen and an example of actors taking an easy pay cheque.

I'm all for scenes of nudity within movies (hell I'll pay extra), but the completely inappropriate use of such scenes in this movie left me squirming. In one particular scene, the wife of Tom Stalls, after finding out he was actually a gangster in a previous life, tries to push him away. This results in the "real" Tom Stalls/Joey Cusack emerging, who violently pins her down before she consents to having "rough" sex with him. What the hell was this movie trying to say at this stage? That women really harbour after bad boys??? Others may argue that the movie was showing deep psychological tensions between the couple. Boll**ks!!! In fact it couldn't be more boll**ks if it was wrapped in hairy skin and hanging from the back of a bull! It was just a crass attempt to inject some sexual interest into a horribly stale script.

If this was all that was wrong with the movie you may partially overlook it, but sadly no, it manages to sink to even worse depths. The climactic scene where Tom Stalls faces off to his brother defies the laws of crap, by producing new levels of crap reference points. How we are supposed to suspend our disbelief (trademark Basic Instinct - possibly the last time I felt this angry about a movie!) to believe that a professional gangster can miss shooting someone five times from 4 foot is beyond me.

The best gauge I can give you of how poor this movie was is that of a fairly full audience at my particular screening, there were howls of laughter at the poor acting in seemingly dramatic and gripping moments of the film. At first this annoyed me as i really wanted to give the film a chance, but as the film progressed I couldn't help but join in. As the film faded to black at the end and the credits began to roll, there was a deep intake of breath by the whole audience before universal laughter and derision. People were re-acting their favourite poor scenes in the lobby after as a homage to the level of crap it reached! I have never actually left a comment on a movie before, as I'm a strong believer in making your own mind up, but I'm strongly considering leaving my job and mounting a one man campaign to dissuade people from spending their hard earned cash on this pile of poo!

Vive la revolution! Down with crap Hollywood movies!
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A jaw droppingly great movie
RossRivero9927 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I've always wanted to see David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" for many years but when the opportunity presented itself to me and I watched it I knew it was going to be great, but at the same time it was far different than the movie I pictured but in a good way of course. The main character of this movie is Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) an ordinary working class man who lives in the town of Milbrook, Indiana with his wife Edie (Maria Bello) and their two children, and also owns a local diner which is non-coincidentally called "Stall's diner".However Stall's life changes when one night he is about to close up shop in his restaurant and two guys come in and try to rob the diner in order to get themselves more money that they didn't earn out of desperation because of being broke and due to the fact that they're threatening the lives of every single person in the restaurant Stall takes matters into his own hands killing both men and as a result he is hailed a hero for his actions, although he isn't very proud of what he did, which unveils a secret that he had concealed for 20 years which I will not spoil. After the failed robbery a mobster named Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) comes into the restaurant with one of his men and tries telling him that his name isn't really Tom Stall but rather Joey Cusack and tries to make him remember his past by showing him scars on his face and that he is blind in one eye. There is another scene in the movie where Edie takes her daughter to the mall and she sees Fogarty again and he tells her to ask her husband a very shocking question which is spoiled by the trailer of which I won't mention. After dealing with Fogarty and his men for the last time Tom or Joey decides to drive to Philadelphia to meet his alleged brother Richie Cusack (William Hurt) who also happens to be a mobster, and after the meeting Tom goes back to his family and nobody knows what happens next. The movie is a nearly flawless adaptation John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel (which I didn't read), and a brilliant Oscar nominated screenplay by Josh Olson, as well as Cronenberg's expert direction. Also with the performances are very good with standout work from Mortensen, Harris, and Hurt (who received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor). The only problem that I had with the movie was Maria Bello's performance which wasn't very impressive to me and made me feel like another actress could have played the part of Edie Stall so much better than she did but then again that's just me. Mortensen's work is comparable to that of Robert Mitchum's performance in "Out of the Past" (1947) because in both movies the main characters deal with a troubled past and tried to keep it a secret but couldn't take it any longer. The performances given by both Harris and Hurt compare among the greatest gangster portrayals in all of movie history along with Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello in "The Departed" (2006), James Cagney's Cody Jarrett in "White Heat" (1949), Marlon Brando's Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" (1972), Al Pacino's Michael Corleone throughout the entire "Godfather" series, Ray Liotta's Henry Hill in "Goodfellas" (1990), Daniel Day-Lewis's Bill "the Butcher" Cutting in "Gangs of New York" (2002) along with so many others. I wish this movie could have gotten more accolades at the Oscars than it did 11 years ago for example not only a supporting actor nomination for William Hurt, but there also could have been one for Ed Harris as well, along with a best actor nomination for Mortensen. This is a violent movie but however it isn't the most violent movie that I've ever seen, and is not suitable for younger viewers who want to watch it at home, which is why it got the R rating in the first place. This is one of the best crime thrillers that I've ever seen , as well as being one of the best films of 2005.
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Absolutely superb
eonbluedan-11 January 2011
Family man Tom Stall runs a coffee shop in a quiet town. The shop is visited by two criminals, and through an act of bravery and unprecedented violence, Tom becomes the local hero. As he and his family attempt to return to normality, in walk another group who do not belong, headed up by a Mr Foggarty, demanding Tom admit he is not who he claims to be. It is the calling into question of Tom's identity that sets the stage for this Cronenberg classic.

The film's strengths are numerous. First, there is not a weak link in the cast; even the people we haven't seen before (most notably Tom's son, Jack) turn in great efforts. Maria Bello may as well be married to Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris is his usual intimidating, brilliant self, and in a role that can't take up more than ten minutes' screen time, William Hurt almost steals it with a character unlike any he has played before. Then we have the formidable Viggo giving a clever, studied, subtle, utterly convincing performance as Tom. Just how studied and subtle it is, in fact, becomes clearer on repeat viewing. He is the new master of the understated performance, understanding the power of low-key finesse in a way that echoes the likes of De Niro and Spacey.

The theme of violence being fundamental to the human condition joins the more common ones in Cronenberg's work: questions of identity and the complex duality of human nature. The latter of these is examined at its closest with two very different, very deliberate love scenes, which Cronenberg put into the film himself (they were never part of the original graphic novel). The first is a scene that shows us just how beautiful and fun sex should be between a couple this deeply in love, and is a pure joy to watch; the second is a superb juxtaposition that properly challenges the audience.

From a technical perspective, there really isn't anything wrong with this film. It looks great, the score, by long time Cronenberg collaborator Howard Shore, does exactly what it is supposed to do, underpinning every moment of tension and drama. Cronenberg's talent allows him to work through a few different tones, including, at points, dark humour. There is in fact a scene you could believe had been written by Tarantino, which doesn't sound like it should work in such an otherwise serious film, but it is perfect.

The review wouldn't be complete without mentioning the violence, of course. It is straightforward, without glamour or sheen, instant, sloppy, and always justified. It is this that interests Cronenberg, how we justify violence, and even applaud it. We fully appreciate the violence we see is necessary, but he wants us to acknowledge it isn't a light subject we just brush over. Regardless of how right it seems, real violence is never pretty, and should stay with you; it should change you. The technique of manipulating the audience, making them complicit in the violence, is not a new one; Kubrick and Tarantino are both famous for it, but when Cronenberg does it, it is to ensure that, whilst cheering, we understand what we're cheering. This ties nicely back in with that Croneberg theme of duality.

A perfect, provocative film for a mature audience, with a closing scene that may disappoint those who haven't been paying attention. It haunts, and provokes.
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