CRIMEWATCH: A History of Violence

At its core A History of Violence takes a look at the dubious nature of deception. Is there a time in life when lying is not only okay but the right thing to do? Is truth a choice or an obligation? When A History of Violence first hit theaters in 2005, director David (The Dead Zone) Cronenberg implored reviewers to steer away from spoilers; and with good reason: the film is much more than its rudimentary title suggests.


Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a mild-mannered, small town diner owner who is passionately in love (we see it vividly acted out onscreen) with his lawyer wife Edie (Maria Bello). The attractive couple live in an attractive suburban home and have two attractive children: cute but bullied-at-school teenager Jack (Ashton Holmes) and adorable moppet Sarah (Heidi Hayes).

What isn’t so attractive is an exceedingly violent altercation that Tom has with two men who attempt to hold up his diner. With breathtaking acuity Tom obliterates the would-be robbers, leaves his customers aghast, and then finds a TV-news crew at his front door.


It’s the coverage of Tom as a “hero” in the news that becomes a problem. Tom’s efficient handling of a potentially deadly situation brings a sinister looking man named Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) to town. Fogarty asks a lot of probing questions: he seems to think he knew Tom years ago. When Tom insists that they never met, Fogarty becomes something of a stalker: idling his shiny new Mercedes outside Tom’s diner, interfering with Edie and little Sarah’s shopping spree at the local mall, and, most intrusively, parking his car outside of Tom’s house.

The only thing that is clear and for sure is that a decision has to be made; information has to be examined: a carefully arranged happy life has to be reconsidered.


As Tom Stall, Viggo Mortensen embodies his character’s internal conflict and displays an impressive range of tears, trauma and reflection. Maria Bello, too, is superb; skilfully conveying her character’s newfound dilemma. Ed Harris’ icy portrait of cool determination gives this aberrant story its edge and grit, and William Hurt’s surprise final act cameo belongs right alongside his many other critically-acclaimed performances.

A History of Violence is a multi tiered look at humanity and the survival of the fittest. Are advanced survival skills nature or nurture? A well honed mix of sex, violence, gore and genuine emotion.

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Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard is the author of four books including “Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide” (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television.

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2 Responses

  1. Diana says:

    Great post. I absolutely love this movie!

  2. Barry says:

    This is a terrific movie, one of the very best of the decade. I think it was this one that made me a Viggo Mortensen fan. As always, Cronenberg’s commentary on the dvd is fascinating.

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