A History of Violence (2005)


Food: Nothing like raw fish to put you in the mood for a violent film. Kumo Sushi is right around the corner for me, so it was definitely the move for the night. My go-to is the Alaska roll which includes salmon and avocado. I got an order of that, as well as the peanut avocado roll which was supreme. The nice thing about Kumo – if you dine in – is that they have affordable deals regularly, especially for happy hour drinks, which involves pitchers and sake. If you’re good with soy sauce, this is an easy one to sneak into a theater as well.

Film: A History of Violence is a multi-layered tale that explores the character of one small town man, who becomes an unlikely hero in a flash when some unhinged criminals attempt to rob his diner. Based on John Wagner and Vince Locke’s 1997 graphic novel, this film is about one man’s potential for violence, after attempting to reinvent himself and lead a more wholesome life.

A family man, Viggo Mortenson’s Tom Stall runs a folksy diner, is married to Edie (Maria Bello), and has two kids – teenaged Jack (Ashton Holmes) and a much younger Sarah (Heidi Hayes), and is well-liked even by their close family friend, the sheriff. After becoming a small town hero overnight, Tom staunchly avoids the spotlight, repeatedly dismissing interviews and pleading “I just want everything to go back to normal.” However, it can’t because the violence has crept back in and forced Tom to confront it.

Tom Stall is actually a runaway named Joey Cusack, a murderous gangster from Philadelphia, who might still have bad blood with some strangers he left behind. After being forced into the spotlight, figures from his past come to find him and threaten the life he has been leading in Indiana.

Although, A History of Violence is an entertaining thriller, the film relies much more heavily on the Tom’s internal struggle with trying desperately to abolish his past self, his potent capabilities, in an ever-boiling battle to survive and protect his family.

Diving into the close relationship Tom has with his wife, there is a palpable unraveling that begins to happen when she senses his secrecy and the possibility that she is married to someone she knows less than she thought. In scenes of intimacy, their characters extreme vulnerability and shifting relational dynamic reveals the emotional pieces of the story that cannot fully be said in such a powerful way.

Director David Cronenberg chose for this story to be told in a quiet Americana backdrop – almost like a classic Western – through stillness and softness until their are sudden moments of brutality. He also layers the film with so much depth and character development that it becomes far more interesting than a typical crime drama. In an interview, he spoke about the title of the film, saying that there are three facets: 1) referring to a suspect with a long history of violence, 2) the historical use of violence as a means of settling disputes, and 3) to reflect the innate violence of Darwinian evolution – ne “Survival of the Fittest.” This piece is a culmination of these things – reflecting on general violence as a means to survive – told through the lens of one particular story.

It works brilliantly and the performances are jarring.

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