A History of Violence is a 2005 drama-thriller film based off of the graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner and Vince Locke. The film was directed by David Cronenberg and written by Josh Olson. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall/Joey Cusack. Joey was a gangster from Philadelphia who killed for both business and pleasure along with his sociopathic brother Ritchie, played by William Hurt. Joey eventually wishes to escape his criminal ways, leaves Philadelphia, and becomes Tom Stall.
Tom meets and marries a woman named Edie, played by Maria Bello. Edie and Tom move to the small town of Millbrook, Indiana and have two children, Jack and Sarah. Tom owns a diner in Millbrook and enjoys a pleasant, loving relationship with his family.
One night, two thugs attempt to rob the diner. Tom kills both the robbers with swift precision, much to the surprise of the diner’s patrons and workers. Tom is hailed as a hero and makes national news for bravely saving everyone’s lives.
This heroic feat comes to the attention of Fogarty, played by Ed Harris. Fogarty is a member of the Irish Mob who had dealings with Joey back in the day. Fogarty tracks Tom down and insists that he return to Philidelphia. Fogarty threatens the Stall Family multiple times, and Tom continues to claim that he is not the man Fogarty is looking for. Eventually, Jack is taken hostage in an attempt to get Tom to go with him. Tom kills Fogarty and his men with the same precision shown at the diner.
After the death of Fogarty, Tom is forced to admit his past to his family. This leads to the deterioration of all of Tom’s personal relationships. This is the film’s main theme. The action and violence featured in this film is awesome and few and far in between. This is John Wick by way of an emotional family drama. It is a very personal story. Tom Stall is afraid of his past, a lot of people today. He lied to Edie and basically everyone in his life because he hated the man he once was. He didn’t lie for fear of prosecution, he lied out of fear of persecution. Everyone has at some point or another. “What would people think about me if they knew I did this or said this?” When we start thinking that way, we hide, just like Tom.
I’m not going to deny that, in this movie, Tom can get scary. Joey Cusack, as Tom admits in the film, killed for both business and pleasure. He enjoys violence. In the scene in which Fogarty and his men are killed, I kinda get the feeling that Tom enjoys this stuff. He never smiles or says anything like “I’m looking forward to this.” That would be cheesy and too obvious. The cadence in which “Get in the house, Jack.” is delivered seems to me like a sort of “Let’s do this, guys.”
Tom is scared of himself. It’s never really explained why he left his life behind, but he changed his name and totally reinvented himself. He ran away from Joey; all the way to Indiana. He detests his violent nature. Throughout the film, he begins to once again embrace that violence. This film is has a lot more layers than one might originally think. Several deep themes are explored at length. You can’t hide from your past, you can’t deny your true nature, lying makes everything worse, the list goes on. That second one is the main focus of the film. Tom has a history of violence. He did a lot of bad things. He had a change of heart somewhere along the line; he considered himself a monster. He didn’t want to do bad things anymore, but that history of violence is still there. Nothing can change that. After killing Fogarty, Tom is forced to deal with his brother Ritchie, and he does not mess around.Tom goes from repressing his past to accepting it rather wholeheartedly.
On the other hand, Tom’s family and friends may never trust him again. Edie loves Tom at a profound level at the beginning of the film. The family is literally picture perfect. It’s one that any person would want. Like most things, it turns out too good to be true. Edie and Tom’s entire relationship is built upon a lie, and the eventual discovery of that lie destroys the family. Edie grows to despise Tom, so does Jack. The trust they had is now broken.The moral of this part of the story is if you used to be a ruthless mobster, let your wife know.
Most of the actors involved give amazing performances. Ed Harris is sufficiently creepy and Viggo Mortensen is just perfect. These are two of the most criminally underrated actors in Hollywood. Maria Bello is extremely sympathetic. William Hurt’s performance is too over-the-top for a somewhat grounded film such as this, though, and child actors will be child actors. Despite the minor pitfalls, it’s still a great film.
A History of Violence is a hidden gem that I feel more people should know about. Viggo Mortensen considers this film to be the best he has ever worked on. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, while discussing his collaborations with Cronenberg…
He praised their 2005 film A History of Violence. “If not the best, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever been in. There’s no such thing as a perfect movie, but in the way that that script was handled, the way it was shot … it’s a perfect film noir movie, or it’s close to perfect I should say.”
While I don’t consider it a cinematic masterpiece, A History of Violence is a great film that is a whole lot deeper than it lets on.