2005 has been quite the year for comic book movies. First, Sin City brought an ultra-violent, highly-stylized Frank Miller graphic novel to the screen with brilliant results.
Then in the summer, we had Batman Begins, a re-imagining of the franchise which once again made it fresh, fun and vibrant. David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, is completely dissimilar from both of those movies, but no less compelling.
A History of Violence is what you’d get if you put Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino and Norman Rockwell and mixed them up in a blender.
It tells the story of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen). Tom lives in an absurdly idyllic vision of small town life in Indiana along with his wife Edie (Maria Bello) and his two kids. Tom owns a diner, walks to work when his pickup truck doesn’t work and eats a perfectly generic brand of cereal every morning for breakfast. His son is a perfectly normal, good-natured young man suffering perfectly normal teenage growing pains.
His marriage has all the symptoms of a normal marriage (lots of love, good nature and pent-up sexual tension).
Everything changes for Tom one day when he stops a robbery in his diner with extremely violent consequences. This triggers the arrival of a group of thugs from Philadelphia led by the horribly disfigured Fogarty (Ed Harris) to arrive in Tom’s town, apparently mistaking him for a violent killer they once knew.
Things spiral out of control from there and it would be unfair to reveal anymore. Suffice to say, what begins as a gentle skewing of Americana goes in lots of unexpected and gory directions. Cronenberg directs this movie with a deft hand. It is his most nimble and breezy movie in a long time, possibly ever. He knows exactly when to keep ratcheting up the tension and when to let up a bit. This is a quick 96 minutes. It’s hard to become bored.
Cronenberg also coaxes a stellar performance from Mortensen. Much like his character Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, Mortensen’s Tom Stall is a hero, but as we keep peeling back the layers, we learn there is indeed a lot more to this man.
The only point where Cronenberg runs into some problems is the ending. At first, it feels a little incomplete. But there is really no other way this movie could have ended. Having not read the source material, I cannot speculate on how this ending holds up to the book, but the movie does a great job of standing up as a complete work on its own.
Only those who are turned off by excessive gore should stay away from A History of Violence. This is a fresh, wholly engrossing motion picture. So anyone looking for something a little different and fun should give this one a try.
Chuck DelRoss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.