Published Sep 01, 2005Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a humble, "aw shucks" kind of guy running a diner in a quiet, Mayberry-esque Midwestern town. There he lives on a farm with his loving family whose only problems appear to be with bad dreams, school bullies and finding time for romantic evenings alone. This idyllic life starts to crumble when a pair of roving thugs attempt to violently rob the diner and are dispatched with relative ease by Stall.
On the plus side, Tom's a hero; the attention instils a new sense of bravado in his bullied son (Ashton Holmes) and brings an increase in clientele to the diner. On the downside, Tom's a national media sensation and this lures a gangster (Ed Harris) from his past to town with a score to settle. Is Tom actually who he believes he is or is there something he's hiding that makes him so efficient in killing people?
With A History of Violence, director David Cronenberg steps back from the surreal and horrific and comes up with the closest thing, for him, to a mainstream film. This isn't to say it's Disney fodder, but there's a tightly woven family dynamic central to the story, as well as an action movie sensibility that makes it stand apart from most of Cronenberg's work. This may keep away some Cronenberg die-hards, but enough people should be drawn in thanks to a good cast and the tightly paced storytelling.
As the lead, Mortensen plays Stall with restraint, even as he changes into a side of himself long suppressed in order to protect what's most important to him. Maria Bello provides strong support, as Tom's adoring wife who's both disturbed by and somewhat attracted to his violent side. Their relationship gives the movie its heart amid the often brutal events that happen. (Alliance Atlantis)