Mild-mannered Tom Stall (Mortensen), the owner of a small-town diner, finds his past has suddenly caught up with him one night after he foils an attempted robbery. The incident makes him a local hero, and the pride of his wife Edie (Bello) and their two children. Unfortunately, it also prompts three dark-suited thugs to come around looking for him. One of them is one-eyed Carl Fogerty (Harris) — a gangster who claims to have a score to settle with Tom. The more Tom denies any past history with the devious Carl, the more he’s in the hot seat of suspicion vis-à-vis the local police and Edie, especially after a violent confrontation blows the cover off Tom’s past — his “history of violence,” so to speak. Tom, hence, finds no option but to journey into his past and face up to all that he once escaped from.
While it weakens in its final stretch as Tom squares off with his old nemesis (Hurt), opting for a third act that feels too spare and simplistic, A History of Violence succeeds enormously thanks to the strength of its direction and performances. Cronenberg’s authority behind the camera is brought to bear in every scene via precise, slow burn pacing, compositions, and his ability to conjure up smoldering performances from every last member of his cast. While Mortensen is pitch perfect throughout, it’s Maria Bello who steals the show; as confused and betrayed as her Edie feels, she’s no shrinking violet here, but a tigress who can claw as savagely as all the lying, scheming men around her. And, with his fogged-out eye and deviously pleasant demeanor, Ed Harris cuts a memorably nasty figure as Tom’s vengeful visitor. With A History of Violence, Cronenberg not only delivers a smart, absorbing thriller, but one of his best films.
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: Josh Olson
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes