A History of Violence (2005)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #591


Number of Views: Two
Release Date: September 23, 2005
Sub-Genre: Crime Thriller
Budget: $32,000,000
Box Office: $60,700,000
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Producers: Chris Bender, J. C. Spink
Screenplay: Josh Olson
Based on A History of Violence by John Wagner & Vince Locke
Special Effects: David Neil Trifunovich
Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky
Score: Howard Shore
Editing: Ronald Sanders
Studio: New Line Productions
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Ed Harris, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Kyle Schmid, Sumela Kay, Gerry Quigley, Deborah Drakeford, Heidi Hayes, Aidan Devine, Bill MacDonald, Michelle McCree, Ian Matthews


Suggested Audio Jukebox

[1] Al Green “Love and Happiness”

[2] Paul Burch “Life of a Fool”

[3] Howard Shore “Hero”


Family is everything right? At least it was last time I checked. Okay so perhaps that is not to give credit where due elsewhere but it’s certainly where the heart feels safest. Whether childhoods are tainted or not, the whole cycle perpetuates itself eventually, and we are gifted an opportunity to construct something truly unyielding. Alas, for reasons not always directly under our control, circumstances change and associations fracture. But you can ordinarily bank on families pulling together when backs are ushered against the wall, especially when there are firearms in the mix. It is at times like these, and heaven forbid they ever play out on our doorsteps, that the glue expands and survival is no longer something reserved only for the fittest. I can barely compute the notion of harming another solitary soul but, should my family be under duress and/or threat, then I’m a worst fucking nightmare with a name like pain.


I’m actually two times divorced and, while my first wife would always receive a slipstream smile of genuine warmth in the event of us crossing paths, my second just so happens to be the mother of my favorite little dude in this universe and a gazillion others and therefore very much my business in a fix. She also possess a heart that consists of popping candy and iced sugar dusting and I know that to be true, regardless of where our future lies. Even the most rugged relationships can only withstand so much revelation and, for devoted family man and pillar of the community, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), the acid test lies directly ahead and doesn’t appear willing to budge either.


A simple man of likewise pleasures, Tom categorically dotes on his nearest and dearest. Adoring wife Edie (Maria Bello) falls deeper in love with him every single day that she wakes in his tender embrace, teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) looks to daddy for his daily pointers on how to become a man of substance and honor, and button cute snuggle bunny Sarah (Heidi Hayes) is just the dearest little cherry on his split. Things are good in the Stall household and business isn’t too shabby either. Tom earns himself a decent honest crust running a local diner with a dignified smile and his entire workforce would forgive more than a blip as he just happens to be one helluva stand-up guy. Not that Tom is looking to waver any time soon, as long as the sun keeps on shining, he’ll keep pouring that coffee and the residents of Millbrook, Indiana will keep gravitating towards him. Alas, undesirable outsiders have a tendency of wafting through those doors also, and he’s one act of valor from receiving a little visit from a past long since etched from his memory.


When a pair of passing goons enter Tom’s diner at last knockings for a pot of his locally famous hot coffee and foolishly decide to try their luck at fucking his shit up in the process, something fires up within him and he instinctively protects his palace to the tune of two tagged up meat bags. By doing what came natural in the face of imminent danger, he inadvertently becomes a local hero and the nationals come sniffing around for their human interest scoop before he can brew up another pot. Guys like Jack make great headlines, all-American heroes for the whole nation to aspire to. You’re damn right Tom Stall could take this global, if only he had the faintest inclination of milking his fifteen-strong fame stretch for all it’s worth. Life can feel free to reconvene and at the first available opportunity if it wouldn’t mind terribly. Simple man, simple pleasures remember.


Or so he hopes. However, when Philly based wise guy Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) darkens the very same doorway for a brief round of emotional whack-a-mole sporting a whole faceful of reasons to wield that mallet, the sturdy bricks and mortar that Tom once felt secure in suddenly becomes a hot-house of compromised glass. Mr. Fogarty is insistent that Tom Stall is actually a trained killer by the name of Joey Cusack and, naturally, this is swiftly blown off as cockamamie. It’s certainly not a stretch to envisage a simple case of mistaken identity, given that the man’s left eye has been left resembling a lychee (an act for which Tom is being held directly responsible). These regular Joes all blend together after a while right? Staple a beard to his chin and Tom would be a dead ringer for that Aragon fella from The Lord of The Rings. He must just have one of those faces.


Of course, there is another possibility, and those lines are starting to become increasingly blurry. Fogarty may well be a bastard, a real smiling assassin, but there seems no reason for him to falsify information. Edie is aware of this and the question marks are starting to hover around Tom’s historically fly-free top crop. Moreover, Jack is acting out at school, and blames pops for setting a slipshod example. He’s bitter as it is his role as son to follow in his father’s footsteps and, should that mean pulling the trigger, then he’ll do so in one of Joey Cusack’s heartbeats. Life has to go on and Tom can feel his vessel careering towards the rocks with swollen tenacity. Something has to give and either Tom or Joey need to stand up like Shady and accept some long overdue responsibility. This could shatter the entire Stall infrastructure but, if there’s one thing Tom is evidently clear on, it’s how to survive when the chips topple. Joey taught him that one.


Mortensen is extraordinarily good in a role which requires him to both above and beyond, conveying his plight through eyes that grow wearier with each realization, and he carries that heavy heart no less than masterfully. Canadian cyberhuman David Cronenberg knows a thing or ten thousand about chemistry, thus his decision to cast Mortensen’s actual life mate Bello as his Edie is no less inspired than I would expect from the great man. I first spotted the smile of this flaxen seraph in David McNally’s Coyote Ugly and I ain’t too proud to admit popping by there from time to time for some light refreshment. As lionhearted Natalie in Wayne Kramer’s The Cooler alongside a wonderfully bedraggled William H. Macy, Bello positively owned the table and it’s great to see Cronenberg dealing her in to share lens space with one of the finest actors of our generation. Their union is sweetly observed, their affection genuine, and their sex honest enough to get all of our knees trembling in unison.


Having perused Cronenberg’s entire catalogue, I feel justified in saying that the master of body horror has only ever been this intimate with his audience on one other occasion and Crash is the very chalk to his cheese as it’s colder and more clinical. Here he keeps things as simple as his main character, while Josh Olson’s adaptation of John Wagner & Vince Locke’s source fiction hones in on the very fibers that make us human unerringly throughout. With Cronenberg regulars Peter Suschitzky and Howard Shore tantalizing two of our senses, Mortensen and Bello covering feel, and a cunningly changeable William Hurt sniffing out the rat, it’s left up to Cronenberg to bring the flavor and A History of Violence is like homemade mac and cheese which makes for a clean sweep in my book.


If we could harbor one gripe, then it would actually be a front-handed negative as, at 96 minutes, it feels just a smidgen stunted. When the storytelling is of this lofty standard, another cup of that Tom’s diner hot coffee wouldn’t go amiss, and there’s a whole second adventure right there for the taking, should Cronenberg be that way inclined. Pucker up buttercups as simplicity is the key word here and I have learned never to bite any hand that feeds me so many mental breadcrumbs. Thanks to Cronenberg, I would assume to being around 3% more intelligent, and sometimes you have to give the grey matter a rest and feel the heart in your chest. Be he mild-mannered everyman Tom Stall or knee jerk guru Joey Cusack is by the bye. As he loves his family and that is everything enough don’t you think?


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: If you asked me to list three things that I love about Cronenberg then his ability to jolt our retinas with flashes of extreme brutality and make it both deeply gross and becoming would be right up there in the medals. David Neil Trifunovich packs on the latex and, make no mistake, there is a fair share of injury detail to be lingered on here and it would be positively inhospitable not doing so. The sex scenes between husband and wife raised many an eyebrow upon the film’s theatrical unveiling and we may as well throw a bone in the mix as it took a real cold one before I could piss in single jet once more. All larking aside, seldom has the glow of on the spot passion felt so all-encompassing.

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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