365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


A History of Violence (2005)

I remember when I first saw A History of Violence in the theaters in 2005. It was not what I was expecting at all. I remember thinking the movie was decent, but not what I expected. This was also when I started to really get into the Oscars. I remember being absolutely flabbergasted when William Hurt (The Doctor, Children of a Lesser God) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. At that time, my beef with his nomination was that he was only in one scene (basically the last scene in the movie). I felt that in order to warrant this kind of acclaim that you needed to be on the screen for more than 15 minutes. As I watched it again (for just the second time ever) last night, I realized that he didn't deserve the nomination, not because he was only one the screen for 15 minutes, but because his performance sucked. He was such a minor character and his performance could have been played by anyone and it wouldn't have affected the movie. If anybody deserved a nomination for this movie, it would have been Viggo Mortenson (The Road, Eastern Promises), who, as he always seems to do, hit a home run as this movie's lead.

The premise of this movie is very simple. A Midwestern family named Tom Stall (Mortenson) has a loving wife named (Edie, Maria Bello - The Cooler, The Company Men), a teenage son (Jack, Ashton Holmes (Wind Chill, Smart People) and an elementary school-aged daughter (Sarah). He owns his own home as well as a diner, appropriately named Stall's Diner. Life is great for the Stall family even though Jack, unbeknownst to his family, is being bullied in school. Tom is a genuinely happy man who loves his wife, his job, and his entire lifestyle.

One day this all changes. Two men who we meet in the very first scene of the movie show up to Stall's Diner just as Nick is about to close for the night. These two men have killed two people at a roadside motel in the film's first scene before one of them goes back in the motel office shoots dead a slightly older than preschool aged girl who may have witnessed a crime. Now having seen what we saw in the opening scene of the movie, we know that these two men didn't just stop by the diner for a quick cup of coffee. They are violent men who have it in there DNA to hurt people. A simple robbery will not suffice. Guns are pulled and the younger of the two men starts to force himself on the young attractive waitress. Realizing this situation is likely to end with his waitress raped as well as he and the handful of customers still in the diner murdered, Tom smashes a coffee pot on the head of the man with the glove before shooting dead the other man. When the first man stabs Tom's foot with a knife, without blinking he shoots him dead in the forehead. It's almost as if Tom has had some training killing people before...

When Tom becomes a national sensation as the man who saved the lives of other, his mug gets plastered over every news cast. It isn't much longer before Fogarty (Ed Harris - Pollock, The Hours) shows up with two of his henchmen at Stall's Diner asking questions and calling Tom by the name of Joey from Philadelphia. Tom steadfastly denies knowing how Fogarty is or why he keeps calling him Joey, but then Fogarty shows his badly scarred eye and says, "you don't remember doing this with a strip of barbed wire fence back in Philly". It seems that either Fogarty is badly mistaken or Tom is not who he says he is. Fogarty seems pretty convincing and herein lies the plot of the movie...is Fogarty wrong or is Tom lying?

At this point the difference between my first viewing of the movie changed from my viewing the second time around because I knew what was about to happen. It changed the experience for me. This is probably a movie most people won't see more than once. Well to be honest, this is probably a movie most people won't see. It did do very well with the critics (87%), but I don't recall it having a massive impact at the box office ($31 million). I did see it in the theaters and it was a much different movie than I expected. In any case, I had forgotten some of the smaller details, but not the overall story. As I try to put on the lenses of seeing it for the first time, I'd be more likely to recommend it than second viewing. After the second viewing, I'd still recommend it if you see a lot of movies, but if you don't, you could pass. Sure it's a tightly wound small town drama with a bit of mystery, but it is fairly predictable and is a story we've all seen played out many times before.

You'd expect the acting to be better than it was. This has four A-list stars, but, in my opinion, only Mortenson exceeded my expectations. Bello was pretty good, but Harris was miscast and, as mentioned, Hurt's performance was one of the most overrated things I've ever seen. The movie can be a tad slow at times, but at the same time, that is what is needed to really build the drama. I never felt like it was too slow, but movies that really build the characters and the setting at the same time are usually the types of movies that I love. Director David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises, The Fly) doesn't direct a lot of movies, but when he does he rarely misses. A History of Violence is no exception. It's a quality crafted film that isn't perfect at any one thing, but hits on enough cylinders that makes it worth watching. It didn't make my top 10 of 2005 list, but it wasn't that far on the outside. If you haven't seen it, give it a shot.

Plot 8.5/10 (I liked it...it was very simple and is a story that has been told before, but the slight twist made it feel a little more original to me)
Character Development 7.5/10
Character Chemistry 7.5/10
Acting 7.5/10 (Mortensen rocked...Bello was great...Ed Harris (who I usually love) was miscast...and Hurt getting an Oscar nomination was ridiculous)
Screenplay 9.5/10 (screenwriter Josh Olson was nominated for an Oscar for this adapted screenplay)
Directing  8/10
Cinematography 9/10
Sound 7/10 (some cheesy 80's background music was too prevalent in way too many scenes)
Hook and Reel 9/10
Universal Relevance 9/10 (it can certainly be hard to escape your past sometimes...even many senses of the word)

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