A History of Violence
Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris
Directed By:
David Cronenberg

A History of Violence is a fine example of how a production can be tempered to keep the story, action and delivery strong without being overblown or over the top. While the underlying themes of the story cover the inherent violence of man and its effects on his family and community, great care is taken not to present the story on a soap box or be heavy handed with delivery the story's points.

The story begins slowly as we're shown the day-to-day simple life of Tom Stall, who lives in a small Indiana town, running his downtown diner and raising his family, almost oblivious to the outside world. One day, a duo of traveling killers wanders into the diner with the intention of performing a violent robbery. Tom reacts to the threat by killing both men. He's treated as a hero in the local media, which unfortunately brings unwanted attention to him.

It doesn't take too long before a mobster (Harris) and his thugs turn up. They make it quite clear that they know Tom, but under another name. As they tell the story, he's a violent member of the mafia from Philadelphia. Despite Tom's vehement denials, the Mafia members continue to watch him and his family. When they make a move on Tom's family, his violent past finally comes to light, putting him at odds with his own family.

While the story is strong on the drama of the characters, make no mistake that it makes a poignant example of how violence seeps into every community. Tom's own past continues to haunt him and when it rears his ugly head, its affect shows in how his family reacts to both Tom and other people in the town.

Director David Cronenberg works wonderfully in creating an all-to-real presentation of the events. There's no extraneous shots. Every sequence and character has a point in the story. The violence, while an important part of the story, is not overdone with gore. When events turn to violence, it is shocking and harsh, but not without a stark bit of realism that helps ground the rest of the drama. Performances are powerful all around. Mortensen is great as the strong man who does what he must to keep his family safe. Bello does a nice job as Tom's wife, proving both passionate and emotional when the story takes a hard turn. Ashton Holmes is sharp and witty as Tom's son Jack.

The core of the audio portion is much like the way the movie is filmed - minimalist and strong on what is necessary. Most sequences barely show off any of the soundtrack and focus on the sound effects that pepper the film's world. Large stretches of musical silence create openings that focus on the actions and reaction of the cast.

A History of Violence is a strong drama that offers a socially conscious concept without being preachy about it. Cronenberg's direction is perfect for the unflinching realism that this story requires. The cast's emotional connection to each other draws the viewer into feeling for them and their situation. If you really want to see a no-frills drama, then do yourself a favor and check this one out.

- - Kinderfeld

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