A History of Violence: A Story of Second Chances

By Lois Siegel

Photo by Paul Jean

Lois Siegel

Plays fiddle and she teaches Video Production at
the University of Ottawa
Her documentary films include “Baseball Girls”
 (women who play softball and baseball)
 “Lip Gloss” (female impersonators)
 “Strangers in Town” (albinism)
 and “Stunt People”
 (The Fournier Family performing stunts for films).

            Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall

I don’t like violent films.  I liked “A History of Violence,” directed by David Cronenberg because the violence wasn’t gratuitous.  It was an intregal part of the story.

Cronenberg is known for his ‘body horror’ films: “Shivers,” “Rabid,” “Scanners,” “Dead Ringers,” and his remake of “The Fly.”  “A History of Violence” (2005) is a thriller. It’s also one of Cronenberg’s highest budgeted films.

The cast is strong: Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, and William Hurt. The subject is violence.  We are forced to consider: When is violence justified? How does one protect oneself against violence? Why does a victim of a violent act become a victim of his own actions of self-defense? Why does violence breed violence?  Even if you have excellent defense skills, how do you protect your family 24 hours a day? How well do you really know your family?

The story focuses on the Stalls, country folk, living outside a small town, Millbrook, Indiana: Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), Edie, his wife (Maria Bello) and their two children, teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes), and young daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes).  

Tom Stall runs a local diner. One day two robbers come through the front door just as he’s about to close, and Tom reacts to defend himself, his store, and his customers. He kills the would-be robbers with amazing swiftness, saving everyone’s lives. Tom is declared an American hero, but being a hero is not always what it’s alleged to be. Sometimes it’s a bad thing. People begin to question why Tom is so good at killing people, and the sheriff starts making assumptions. Where does a country boy develop these skills?

One act of violence leads to many, not just by Tom, but by those around him. The film is one of action, but it’s also one of reflection, with comments on relationships – wife/husband, father/son, and brothers.

As the Stall’s family life crumbles because of several acts of violence, Tom has to find a way to put it back together again. “A History of Violence” is also a story of second chances.

William Hurt as Richie Cusack

The film does have its ‘entertaining’ moments. Towards the end of the film  Tom Stall visits his mobster brother Richie Cusack (William Hurt).  This scene is way over the top and seems more like a cartoon - out of place with the rest of the film, although it does add the element of violence as humor.

The multiple twists in “A History of Violence” keeps the viewer riveted.

Peter Suschitzky, Polish director of photography, adds to the tone of the film with his low key lighting in the house and the hospital, and most of the picture is shot with a wide angel 27mm lens.

              David Cronenberg with Peter Suschitzky

Suschitzky also worked on “Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back,” (1980), Cronenberg’s
"Dead Ringers” (1988), “Naked Lunch” (1991), and “Mars Attacks!” (1996).

Stephan Dupuis, who won an Oscar for “The Fly” (1987), is makeup supervisor. The former Montreal Concordia University graduate now spends most of his time in Hollywood.

“A History of Violence” is a film you will not forget.

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