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A History Of Violence (2005) Movie Review

Atharva Deshpande lives in Nashik, Maharashtra. He is a cinephile and a bookworm. He likes to talk about books & movies that interest him.



Spoiler Alert

This review has spoilers for this 2005 classic, A History Of Violence.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it first and then read this article.

A History Of Violence is 2005 crime-thriller written by Josh Olson and directed by David Cronenberg. Adapted from a 1997 graphic novel of the same name, this film stars Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt. I recently watched this film after seeing it in a long list of recommendations.

The opening scene of this film is staggering. It begins with two people checking out of a motel. They are not in the mood of paying, so we understand what’s to come. It’s the staging of the scene that got me. We aren’t shown glorified violence, the act of killing hotel staff happens in the background. It’s shown on the screen casually. Of course, the second diner they visit brings their doom.

I don’t know for sure if the casting of Greg Byrk was intentional or not. It creates a really interesting first act twist. I thought Byrk was playing young Mortensen. But when Byrk turns out to be different. I really liked the fact that we don’t ever see the cheesy flashbacks about Stall’s history as Joey. With these subtle choices, this film becomes more than just another crime thriller.

This film revolves around Tom Stall (An underappreciated Viggo Mortensen), who is a regular family man. He owns a small diner and is pretty happy with his life. Well, the two people from before, come knocking on Stall’s diner. They represent a threat and Tom chooses to act. He has to take the route of ‘violence’. This is the first act of violence done by our protagonist. This is also the initial plot point that kicks off the movie. Tom then gets a visit from his past and the ‘history’ in the title gets more important.

Director David Cronenberg has a distinct visual storytelling skill. His framing, blocking, and overall style make this film something bigger than its genre. A History Of Violence doesn’t fall into an easy thriller. It’s rather psychological, real, and brutal. Ed Harris’ Carl Fogarty becomes the initial antagonist.

Ed Harris will give you nightmares with his one eye and a smug smile.

Ed Harris' Carl Fogarty

Ed Harris' Carl Fogarty

The antagonist of this film is the duality of the protagonist. The film quickly becomes about identity crisis rather than the cost of violence. For a long while in the second act, Tom denies that he had a past as Joey Cusack. This question of duality goes on until another act of violence happens by our protagonist. I really love the framing of the actors in that scene. Tom becomes Joey when the threat of death is nearby. The real antagonist of this film doesn’t bear as much weight as Tom turning into Joey permanently.

Cronenberg and Olson are interested in the cost or consequence of violence. Each time blood is spilled on screen, there are inherent and nonstop consequences. When Tom kills at the diner, he gets the attention he doesn’t want, the second time, his family gets distant which he desperately needs. He decides to end this once and for all. He has to face his past from which he has been running away. Does he redeem himself with the last act of violence? Well, you have to find that yourself.


All the performances in this film are noteworthy as well. They leave a deep mark on you. Mostly, Mortensen deserves many awards for this performance. The angst, the duality, Mortensen showcases it perfectly. When he's Tom, you can see the measured performance, but the subtle change in his demeanor when Joey's back is incredible. The performance by Ed Harris is scene-stealing even with the little time he has on-screen. Maria Bello’s role as the confused wife also gets interesting as the film progresses.

The dialogue in this film is quite interesting. It’s always a question of life and death so, the dialogues also feel acts of violence. They feel like cutting each other with brutality.

This riveting film has a simple plot, but the execution is interesting and rather hooking. This film never lets you look away. The scenes of violence are gory and disturbing. Even seeing violence on the screen will make you feel the consequence. The scene where Tom’s kid shoots to save his father.

Tom Or Joey?

Tom Or Joey?

This film asks important questions like: Is violence inherited? Can we ever escape our past? Can the spilled blood be cleaned? Due to the slow pace and unnervingly realistic action, this film might not be for everyone. But, if you like watching films with violence, History Of Violence will remind you of the cost of it.

This film is streaming on MUBI in some countries. If you have watched it, let me know in the comments what you liked and what you didn’t like about this film.

Thanks for reading.

Don't download torrent! If you can, please buy a DVD

Ratings :

IMDB: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Metacritic: 81%
Verdict: At least one time watchable.

© 2021 Atharva Deshpande


Atharva Deshpande (author) from Nashik on June 03, 2021:

His opening scene pocketed me.

It's my Horror Phobia that I haven't seen his other films.

Theodore Turnquest II from Lakeland, Florida on June 03, 2021:

Great review. History Of Violence is one my favorite movies. David Cronenberg is master filmmaker.

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