Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: Josh Olsen, based on the graphic novel A History of Violence by John Wagner and Vince Locke
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill
Running Time: 96 minutes
Genre: Crime, action, drama, gangsters
Canadian director David Cronenberg is probably most familiar to audiences as the "King of Venereal Horror" with films such as Shivers (1975), Rabid (1976), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1980), Videodrome (1982), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988) and the hugely controversial Crash (1996). Here he makes his first entry into the crime thriller genre, with largely successful results.
In the small town of Millbrook, Indiana, Tom Stall (Mortnesen) owns the local restaurant and is a well-liked family man. After he is forced to kill two gunmen in self-defense, when they attempt to rob his reatuarant, Tom is hailed as a national hero. However, before long he is is visited by a group of mobsters led by the sinister Fogarty (Harris), who threaten him and his family. Fogarty insists that Stall is not who he claims to be, and Tom is forced to confront his own dark history of violence.
On one level this is a gripping crime thriller, full of action and suspense, and on another level it is a meditation on how violence affects those who commit it, and the way it both attracts and repels, frequently at the same time. Maria Bello puts in a strong performance as Tom's initially loving wife, who is terrified by the changes in her husband, but is at the same time aroused by the previously latent savagery that she glimpses in him, while their bullied son (Ashton Holmes) shows that his father's potential for violence is also within him enabling him to strike back against his high school tormentors.
The film is well made effectively depicted cluttered small town domesticity, and the cast give strong perfomances throughout, with Viggo Mortnesen being a particular stand out in the lead. As fun as the gangster thriller scenes are, the film is strongest when it deals with the Stall family. The climax is too abrupt but the film ends with a powerful and ambiguous scene.
As you might expect from the title and the plot there is a fair amount of violence here and Cronenberg has never been known to back away from the depiction of violence, but as usual in his films, the violence is not glamorised or particularly dwelt upon.