A History of Violence (2005)
March 31, 2016 7:07 PM - Subscribe

When a pair of petty criminals attempt to rob his small-town diner, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) quickly and easily kills them both. In the flush of news coverage of Tom's seemingly heroic actions, a threatening stranger named Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) comes to town, fingering the unassuming family man as long-missing Philadelphia mobster Joey Cusack. To the horror of his wife, Edie (Maria Bello), and teenage son, Jack (Ashton Holmes), Tom finds he must confront his violent past.


There are those who rag on the director as Dave Deprave, the flesh freak who plays mind games with damaged, oozing body parts in films like Scanners, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Videodrome, Crash and Naked Lunch. Open your eyes, people. This is a world-class director, at the top of his startlingly creative form.
-Peter Travers in Rolling Stone
posted by Cookiebastard (6 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have watched this movie so many times since it started showing up on cable. I wouldn't have expected it to become one of my must-re-watch movies. I don't remember how much I knew about it on the first watch - I think I must have read something about the staircase sex scene before I saw it, I think in a criticism of another show's attempt to do something similar and failing. But I don't think I knew what to expect, I just could not stop watching. And I can't really figure out how to express why I continue to be so drawn to it.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:29 PM on March 31, 2016

There is a fantastic bit of acting from Mortensen -- spoiler -- when Tom is lying in the hospital bed and his wife confronts him with the evidence that he has changed his identity. He is gradually worn down from smiling denial and shrugging bafflement to reluctant admission and there is an instant where nothing overt changes but a light behind his eyes goes out, and suddenly Tom is replaced by Joey. It is astonishing to watch.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:46 AM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is a terrific film, but its most perfect sequence is the opening, with the robbery at the diner, the horror of their violence, then Tom's defense, which is exhilarating in a way, but then suddenly even more horrible and terrible. You watch the locals robotically and thoughtlessly praise him for his "heroism," even as you start to fill with dread because no this is wrong, a good and normal person should not have been able to do those things in that fashion. Those were not the skills of a strong person defending right and honor. They were the effortless reflexes of a trained and terrifying killer. I think of that segment of the film often. So much to like in that movie, but that set of scenes haunts me.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:43 AM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Some DVD releases have scenes which were cut from the theatrical release which are more trademark Cronenberg (including one where Ed Harris, after being dispatched with a shotgun, arises from the floor complete with gaping wound in his prosthetic chest). I thought those edits actually made the film better. This is more gratuitous gore as compared to the hallucinatory Videodrome - still his best, IMO
posted by sudogeek at 8:51 AM on April 1, 2016

I live in the town where they filmed this, I should watch it again. Unfortunately the Archer tribute episode has somewhat muddled my recollection of this movie.
posted by LegallyBread at 10:13 AM on April 1, 2016

Those were not the skills of a strong person defending right and honor. They were the effortless reflexes of a trained and terrifying killer.

I remember one of the anecdotes in "The Gift of Fear" where a woman was being attacked and telling the story afterward said how she was thinking about using the keys in her hand to hurt the man only to realize that she had already blinded him with them. I don't remember the context - it might have been in the other DeBecker book "Protecting the Gift", that she had reacted with such swift unthinking violence because her child was in danger too.

Not meaning that as a disagreement about Tom, it's just that I think one of the things that makes the movie so fascinating is how it shows the effects of his violence on his family. The way it unleashes something dormant in his son - and the contrast between the son's exhilaration in the school fight and his grief/shock after the life & death confrontation in the front yard. That he has the capability to become like Tom, but he's still young and innocent enough to be shattered by it.

And then there's Maria Bello and the staircase scene. There have been so many movies/shows that tried and failed to do a sex scene that starts out rape-like and turns consensual -- most of them fail because the director/writer/producer/whoever are too seemingly too blindly misogynist to understand what consent looks like, and/or because the story is just inescapably sexist, and so what they end up with is a depiction of rape that they insist in interviews wasn't rape. I think "A History of Violence" is maybe the only movie that I've ever seen accomplish this scene successfully. Because the directing/editing/acting clearly shows the moment that the dynamic shifts. And because there's actually a valid story reason for the scene, the idea that on some level Bello's character was drawn to Tom because of his hidden Joey personality, not in spite of it.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:41 AM on April 2, 2016

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