Adapted from the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, A History of Violence tells the story of a man in a small town family man who kills two men attempting to rob his diner. The story makes him a local hero and grabs national attention. Soon, mafia men from Philadelphia start appearing in town, believing to know this man and claiming he has ties to the mafia.
Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, the local hero. He and his family are loving, kind and gentle. Their small town lifestyle feels nearly perfect, with Tom as the steady center that keeps the family stable. The way he and his teenage son, Jack (Ashton Holmes), are able to talk over breakfast so calm and openly is what every parent should strive for.
After the incident, everything changes. Local reporters cannot get enough from him, but Tom is a shy hero. At first, he tries to let everything go back to normal, but there is no denying the new light shed upon him. When the allegations from the mafia arise, they seem ridiculous. But their presence is so constant and threatening, the whole family is put on edge. It’s clear to see that Tom has a very real fear of these men.
To really experience A History of Violence, avoid spoilers. Stop reading here if you have yet to see the film.
When Tom’s past is revealed, the family’s foundation is shaken. To his wife, Edie (Maria Bello), Tom is suddenly a new person, built up from an early life of crime and shapen for her by nothing but lies. Jack mixes his bitterness with teenage rebellion and violence at school. He knows a hallway fight is nothing compared to his father’s hidden past. Tom seems to understand their newfound disgust towards him, but still seems very hurt by it. There was probably a part of Tom that truly believed he was the small town man he created. He played the part flawlessly for years.
If we had to boil the film down to one main theme, it would have to be survival of the fittest. Darwinism is precisely what has kept Tom going strong. Not only has he survived all his issues in Philadelphia, but removed himself from it and adapted to a new land and lifestyle. He has evolved, blended in and even procreated, but kept his ability to be a ruthless killer buried deep inside. The action scenes show he hasn’t lost that keen skill.
At the Academy Awards, A History of Violence was only up for two awards. Their nomination for best adapted screenplay lost out to Brokeback Mountain. Perhaps those who were more familiar with the graphic novel didn’t approve of the entire second half of the film taking so many liberties. The second nomination was for William Hurt’s performance in a supporting role. He has one main scene towards the end of the film, and he is spectacular. He makes a hug feel menacing, keeps calm when he’s ruthless and sent me into an unexpected explosion of laughter with one shrug. Well done again, Mr. Hurt.
A History of Violence is not for everyone. With violence clearly in the title, there is a good amount of it, with a touch of gore. The sex scenes can be too much for some viewers, and can feel uncomfortably drawn out. But the acting is spot on and the story is more than compelling. It falls somewhere between a drama and a thriller, with a quiet characters that create so much tension. This really is a great and unique film.
“In this family, we do not solve problems by hitting people!”