Retro Review ‘A History of Violence’: Revisiting Cronenberg’s Classic 2005 Thriller



2005’s A History of Violence was first conceived as a graphic novel written by John Wagner and illustrated by Vince Locke, originally published in 1997 by Paradox Press and later by Vertigo Comics, both imprints of DC Comics. It is also the source for the 2005 film of the same name directed by David Cronenberg. This was the first cinematic adaption of a work by John Wagner since 1995’s Judge Dredd. Both the book and the film raise compelling and thoughtful questions about the nature of violence, while the film represents a return to form for director David Cronenberg in one of his more uncharacteristic pieces. 


A History of Violence Trailer [HD]


Diner owner Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) enjoys a quiet small-town Indiana Americana life with his wife (Maria Bello) and kids. That is until he foils an armed robbery at his diner by two vicious thugs:



Tom suddenly becomes a national hero…which attracts the attention of a sinister character (a scarred Ed Harris), who insist that he’s actually hitman Joey Cusack, part of the Irish mob from Philly. For those who haven’t watched the picture I won’t spoil how it plays out.



But…I will say, that I get the impression that Viggo isn’t hiding out in fear of what the mob will do to him – more of what he will do to them. Cronenberg directs this taut thriller with real panache; my only quibble would be the icky sex scenes between Viggo and Bello, but maybe that’s just me. Such is the premise of “A History of Violence.” Who is Tom? Is he really who he says he is? Or is he someone else?


There’s a great (and very satisfying) scene  where Stall’s son Jack (Ashton Holmes) discovers his ‘inner Cusack’ when a college bully pushes him too far:


Are You Laughing Now?


This is not an easy film. This is not a safe film. This is an unsettling psychological experience that takes some time to digest. But it’s worth the effort. It is such an intense mental and physical experience that its effects, indeed its importance, only grow with time.



Cronenberg has created an organic masterpiece so disturbing, so profound, that it demands to be seen. There is no other way to describe it. Only after seeing it can anyone truly understand. Simply put, “A History of Violence” is one of the best films of 2005.



Cronenberg went on to work with Mortensen another two times, on the London-set Russian mafia thriller Eastern Promises (2007) and two years later in the Freud/Jung biopic A Dangerous Method.


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Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'