I first saw A History of Violence back in 2006. I thought it was a perfect movie at the time. Ten years later, I’ve watched it again for what has to be the forty-ninth time and I’m still struggling to find something wrong with it. My cons are literally empty, folks. There’s my tagline.
Who is Joey Cusack? You don’t find out until deep into the movie, but you find out very quickly who Tom Stall (Viggo Mortenson) is. Tom is a family man running a diner named after his own surname. He’s friendly, quiet, and loved by his wife and two children. Everything is going great in Tom’s life until some pretty shady characters show up at his diner accusing him of being a former gangster by the name of Joey Cusack. These men are refusing to leave town and will do whatever is necessary for Tom to come clean and return with them back to Philadelphia.
The dialogue is slow but meaningful. It purposefully helps put your mind in the state of sleepy Millbrook, Indiana. The words are intense and powerful, especially between Tom and his wife Edie (Maria Bello). It appears that Tom and Edie haven’t had many problems in the time they were married and they both seem unsure of how to handle this new threat that’s now attacking their marriage. Being a part of the audience, you are watching a beautiful disaster unfold. Even during the peaceful times in the film, there’s a quiet sense of something floating just underneath the surface. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it’s there.
Purposeful. Word of the day. That’s what makes this film so powerful and memorable. Every single scene, every single word that’s uttered, it all has a purpose.
In the words of Salt ‘N’ Pepa, “Let’s talk about sex.” While it doesn’t lead me to ever deducting points from a movie, I think a lot of sex scenes in film are unnecessary. For the most part, they never seem to go with the flow of the story, rather they pull you out of it. A History of Violence does have a sex scene and it’s a pretty graphic one. Not only does it work for the film, but it’s actually one of the more important scenes. It succeeds on multiple levels by homing in on a relationship that’s on the rocks and exploring what both characters are desiring at that given time. It’s something you have to see to fully understand.
The film grabs you from the first five minutes and never lets go after that. Each character is set up and developed excellently, from Tom’s teenage son Jack, a reclusive nerd who just wants to make it through high school without getting his butt kicked, right down to Charlotte (Deborah Drakeford), one of Tom’s employees at the diner who has a good soul and an innocent heart. Again these characters are purposeful, serving a vital part in the film’s overall story.
And what a grand story A History of Violence turns out to be. I literally have nothing bad to say about it. Therefore, I give a well-deserved 100.