Film Review: A History of Violence (2005)

David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence is a strange movie. I honestly cannot decide about it. It is violent and graphic—very much so, and I see its point about the innate violence within every person. However, I think it’s got a pretty simplistic plot overall. I wish it had been a little more complex.

Tom Stall, played by Viggo Mortensen, owns a diner in a small Indiana town. One night two men attempt to rob him while he and a few others are in the diner. He kills them both (one by blowing half of his face off). This gets him noticed as a hero by the news, and soon after, a group of mysterious men (led by Ed Harris as Carl Fogarty with a mangled face and eye) in a nice car come to town looking for him.

They’re convinced that Tom is actually Joey Cusack, despite his denials. They begin stalking Stall’s family until they force him to reveal his true identity. This revelation occurs through the further murder of Fogarty’s men. Even more, Fogarty himself is killed by Stall’s son just before Fogarty was about to kill Stall. More of Stall’s past comes forth, and he returns to Philadelphia to remedy the situation and clean up his past by killing his brother, Richie (William Hurt).

There are a few intense sex scenes, one rather disturbing and violent. There are buckets of blood, and some over the top kills. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised considering the title. From what I know about the graphic novels from which this is adapted, the story was originally more complex. The relationships have more depth, and the story isn’t just as simple as a man hiding from his past. I think I’d like to see more of that here.

The title itself even suggests a bit more significance. I did a bit of reading, which jives with what I assumed from the title: that the Darwinistic survival of the fittest underlies everything, and everyone is capable of violence in order to acquiesce to that primal urge. I think that the film would be more poignant if Tom Stall actually did not remember his past. There’s a point at which Tom’s wife Edie even suggests that he may have some split personality. This is not the case in the film. I think it would have been much more effective if Tom Stall actually had suppressed his past identity and could not suppress his violent instincts. It was certainly interesting, but I want a bit more. Otherwise, I don’t know if this belongs on a Top 100 Films To See Before You Die list.


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