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By Michael Ferraro | October 3, 2005

Director David Cronenberg certainly has an interesting body of work. He has worked as a film director since the late 60s but it wasn’t until the release of “Scanners” in 1981 when he caused some viewers heads to explode, instantly launching him into cult status. Since then, he has chosen some interesting and psychological fare (“Videodrome,” “Dead Ringers” and “Spider”) as well as one of the finest remakes ever attempted (“The Fly”). Cronenberg isn’t really that well known to mainstream audiences, but that is all about to change. While “A History of Violence” has many mainstream sensibilities, it still may be a little less flashy and a touch more philosophically sound for that type of audience to fully appreciate it.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) has the perfect little small town life going for him. He runs a small diner in the middle of town, where everyone knows his name. His ideal family – a beautiful wife (Bello), a young daughter, and a teenage son (Holmes) – encompasses everything that most people want in life. Everything in Tom’s life is going great, until the day two gunmen enter his diner right before closing time.

Right before our eyes, as they threaten to kill one of his employees, Tom transforms into an unflinching survivalist. He practically kills these gunmen before they know what’s happening. That’s when everything in Tom’s life begins to change.

The media flashes his picture and his story all over the news and soon, people from everywhere are coming to Tom’s little podunk diner to get a glimpse at a real life superhero. No one really even questions where Tom got the skill to take out two professional killers, except a gangster-looking heavy with a scarred up eye.

Tom’s family then starts to wonder just who Tom really is. Has he been telling them the truth from the start? Did they fall in love with a natural born killer?

To say anything more would do the readers a great disservice. Does Tom Stall have a history of violence, or doesn’t he? That’s the question that runs throughout the rest of the film. Viggo Mortensen’s skill here couldn’t be any more perfect. Nothing in his performance gives anything away to the audience; you’re just as mystified about his past as the other characters in the film are. It’s a very quiet and somber performance that intensifies every scene he is in. William Hurt is almost an invisible man here – he immerses himself into his brief role and exhibits a side he has never shown us before. Let’s hope the Academy members notice these two.

It’s easy to see why Cronenberg was interested in an otherwise simple story. “A History of Violence” is more about human relations than it is about plot and that’s what makes it work so well. He derives an almost too realistic performance from all the actors involved, as if he put them through this horrible tragedy for real. Each nuanced performance is perfectly complimented by Peter Suschitzky’s subtle camera work, never moving too often or taking focus away from the action.

Could you compare this to any other Cronenberg movie? Absolutely not. Sure, there are elements in this film that are 100% Cronenberg (the beautiful violence we so rarely see these days, subtle weird humor), but this is definitely not your typical Cronenberg. No matter if you either love his cinematic oddities, or if you’re put off by them, watching “A History of Violence” would prove beneficial. It’s no doubt one of the best films of the year.

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