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David Cronenberg's 2005 thriller about a family man who may have a dark past as a killer.

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A Self, Buried

  • Mar 16, 2006
  • by
In "A History of Violence," director, David Cronenberg, creates a masterful study of the human psyche adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Performances by Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ashton Holmes, Ed Harris and a particularly enjoyable one by William Hurt intensify from one frame to the next, bringing to life the simple plot line that unfurls a deeper metaphor with as many tasty layers as an Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion.

Rather than reiterate the story once again, I will state only that when an unforeseen event catapults Tom Stall's other self back into action, he and his family must deal with not only the repercussions but with a new understanding of someone they thought they knew and trusted.

Where many of the other reviewers focus on the film's violence that we, as 21st century denizens thoroughly familiarized with the Newtonian ideas of action versus reaction, experience on an almost quotidian basis and subsequently either absorb or repel, I suggest that this engrossing film flicks on an inner light that illumines and asks us to explore those hidden secret parts of ourselves. Either through reinvention or suppression, we all decide to tuck away certain aspects of our true nature. The legendary party-goer, for instance, once becoming a parent, may, out of a sense of responsibility or respectability dispense with the accoutrements of those wild Friday and Saturday nights. In order to be eligible for that special promotion, one may opt to cut one's hair, have that tattoo lasered off the ankle and change one's vocabulary to reflect the individual worthy of earning more cash. We take on different roles as we move forward (or backwards) in life; we become someone's spouse . . . someone's boss . . . someone's parent . . . someone's someone that infers evolving into a role model that knows all the right things to say and do that will keep us positioned and functioning as this archetype.

Like Tom Stall, played to perfection by Viggo Mortensen in the film, we are subject to the events of the past. Suggestive of the scorpion in the fable whose nature it is to sting the frog he is helping to cross the river and hence, destroy himself, we will find ourselves reverting back to that self---that real identifying "me" without any of the qualifying subtitles (wife, mother, father, sister, etc.) that we either reengineered through self-reinvention or suppressed in order to forget or seemingly progress.

Perhaps Cronenberg poses the question, "Can one justly suppress one's true nature?" Does he suggest in the form of this story that like others who at one time or another in their adulthood undergo what is commonly called a "second childhood," that Stall like ourselves will mid-life-crisis out and struggle to regain that piece of himself that was his and only his from birth despite what other standards he has attributed to or acquired for himself?

Bottom line? See the film. Yes, it has its moments of violence, but look beyond that and examine the theme of reinvention and self-identity that Cronenberg so wisely pushes up from the depths of the subconscious. Check out the differences in the two sex scenes between Mortensen and Bello and revel in the last few minutes of the film where silence conveys a wealth of emotions which range from hopefulness to acceptance. Recommended to all that are not thrown by a graphic novel's sense of violence.

Diana F. Von Behren

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More A History of Violence (2005 fi... reviews
review by . April 15, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Nature of violence is a dark and dangerous path down the road to death and sorrow....
For as long as humanity has existed we have always been violent we may have not been created that way  but somewhere down the line  we found out that violence  could save us or destroy us. It all depends on if we choose to use violence as a means of salvation or as a means of destruction in David Cronenberg's blunt yet very insightful film raises thought provoking and shocking questions about the true nature of violence and how it can affect some and change others. how sometimes …
Quick Tip by . October 09, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A movie in two halves. A world in two halves too. Nicely delineated. Cleverly done.
review by . December 23, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
WARNING: This film contains strong brutal violence, graphic sexuality/nudity, explicit language, and brief drug use.       In the film A History of Violence, director David Cronenberg (Videodrome and Crash) examines America's fascination with violence. At the same time, both compelling and disturbing, the film shows the way that violence affects the residents of a small town in the Midwest. Utilizing his sense of irony, as well as his cinematic ability to create suspense, Cronenberg …
review by . April 29, 2009
This is one of those movies that seems to start off as a powerhouse and then peters off where the director was not sure where to take it and the movie seems to feel more like a long Sopranos episode than a feature length film.     Tom Stall runs a diner in a small Indiana town with his wife. Tom is the "nice" guy with the adoring wife that works with him and two children that everyone in the town "knows." One day there is trouble in the diner which causes Tom to get into a fight …
review by . November 08, 2008
A History Of Violence
I was anxious to watch 'A History Of Violence' because I had heard it was quite, well, violent. While there are two very exceptionally gross scenes, the violence unfortunately didn't fit it with the rest of the movie. For the most part, 'A History Of Violence' is a rather boring movie that takes a long time to get going.     Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) owns a diner in the quiet, rural town of Millbrook, IN, has a beautiful wife and two well-behaved children. When two thugs enter …
review by . March 06, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: That the dvd didn't come with something sharp to harm myself with.      Cons: That the dvd didn't come with something sharp to harm myself with.      The Bottom Line: Not the worst movie ever, but it would be on an top ten for most dull.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie''s plot.      Never have I been so bored by a movie where so many people die.      …
review by . December 11, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
This is one of those movies that seems to start off as a powerhouse and then peters off where the director was not sure where to take it and the movie seems to feel more like a long Sopranos episode than a feature length film.    Tom Stall runs a diner in a small Indiana town with his wife. Tom is the "nice" guy with the adoring wife that works with him and two children that everyone in the town "knows." One day there is trouble in the diner which causes Tom to get into a fight …
review by . July 21, 2006
Viggo Mortensen takes off his cowboy hat from "Hidalgo," his sword from "LOTR," and trades them in for a shotgun, a number of handguns, and a few swift punches to the throat to flesh out his role of Tom Stall in "A History Of Violence." The flick starts off with a bit of a surprise, then uses the next twenty or so minutes to build up the monotony, simplicity, and happiness of Stall's life. He has a perfect wife, Edie (Maria Bello), a good son (Ashton Holmes), and an innocent daughter (Heidi Hayes). …
review by . March 22, 2006
The idea that a movie with graphic depictions of murder could also be deep and incredibly interesting didn't cross my mind until I saw "A History of Violence." I understand now why David Cronenberg chose to direct it; his films are nothing if not bizarre and over the top, but they also have an underlying complexity that makes them fascinating to watch. Maybe that's because he chooses stories that focus primarily on the dark recesses of the human mind and the realities they create for the individual. …
review by . March 17, 2006
Too many times I've watched a movie expecting greatness and not getting that. I just knew A History Of Violence would be good but it only met some of my expectations. Although it will keep you entertained you might get mad at it lacking some realness. It may look real but trust me it doesn't look real enough and it goes on for the entire movie. For example when Tom saves his diner and the people in it he hits one of the robbers in the face with a pot of coffee and it's so obvious it's digitalized. …
About the reviewer
Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
Ranked #35
I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … more
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About this movie


Starring Viggo Mortenson, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt
Directed by David Cronenberg
Writer:  John Olson (screenplay)

Product Description
An average family is thrust into the spotlight after the father (Viggo Mortensen) commits a seemingly self-defense murder at his diner.

Canadian director David Cronenberg, whose impressive oeuvre includes such disparate works as THE DEAD ZONE, THE FLY, DEAD RINGERS, M. BUTTERFLY, and SPIDER, has made what might be the best film of his career with A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Loosely based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, the movie stars Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, a quiet, easygoing family man who runs a diner in a small Indiana town. But when two dangerous criminals come into the restaurant prepared to wreak havoc, Stall turns hero and shoots them both. After Stall's story is blasted all over the media, Philly mobster Carl Fogaty (an excellent Ed Harris) shows up, claiming that Tom is actually former hit man Joey Cusack--and they've got some important business to finish. While Stall insists that Fogaty is mistaken, his family--his wife, Edie (Maria Bello); teenage son, Jack (Ashton Holmes); and young daughter, Sarah (Heidi Hayes)--gets dragged into the danger that constantly threatens to explode. Cronenberg, whose films ...
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Director: David Cronenberg
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Release Date: September 23, 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Josh Olson
DVD Release Date: March 14, 2006
Runtime: 1hr 36min
Studio: New Line Cinema
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