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A History of Violence (2005)
Rated R

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and Ed Harris

Rating:
*****
out of
*****

Director David Cronenberg has been consistent at one thing in his career: being wildly inconsistent. He's made films that I've loved, like The Fly and The Dead Zone, and films that I've hated, like Naked Lunch and eXistenZ. So it was with some trepidation that I viewed 2005's A History of Violence.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) has what some might consider the picture-perfect, Midwestern life. He lives in Millbrook, Indiana, a small town where everyone knows everyone else. He's married to Sarah (Maria Bello), a beautiful, intelligent woman. He's got two kids. He runs the town diner. He even tells his wife that he considers himself the luckiest man alive.

All that changes when two men enter the diner as Tom is closing for the night. These men are definitely not the type that regularly frequent small-town diners. As they draw guns and make it obvious that they intend to do his customers and employees harm, Tom takes matters into his own hands. He manages to kill both of them with their own guns. He's instantly championed as a "small town hero", but the attention he receives from the media changes his life and the lives of his family forever.

First and foremost, this is probably Cronenberg's most straightforward movie. Thankfully, there are no strange and twisted visions of the future here. Based on a script by Josh Olson, which itself was based on a graphic novel by Vince Locke and John Wagner, Cronenberg puts on a morality play that will toy with the viewer's idea of when violence is justified and when it is not.

Viggo Mortensen, best known as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, delivers a nuanced but very effective performance as Tom Stall. The role requires subtle changes in voice inflection and tone that Mortensen absolutely nails. With Mortensen's performance as the foundation, Cronenberg is able to build his tale of dread and suspense successfully. With anyone else in the role -- and supposedly Harrison Ford and Thomas Jane were both considered -- A History of Violence would not be the same movie. Maria Bello provides Mortensen with ample support, but this is clearly Viggo's show.

The best way to see A History of Violence is with no knowledge of the film's plot beyond what I've described here. Even better would be to see it with a group of friends with whom you can discuss how you feel afterwards. This is a movie that begs to be the subject of intelligent conversation and discussion. That's a high compliment.

While A History of Violence won't make me forget eXistenZ or Naked Lunch, Cronenberg has delivered one of the best films I've seen in a long time by any director. I will be a little less wary of anything else he directs for at least the foreseeable future.

Trivia: The fictitious town that the film is set in (Millbrook, Indiana) is named after the town where the film was actually shot (Millbrook, Ontario, Canada). The scenes set in Philadelphia were actually shot in Toronto, Canada. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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