A History of Violence Reviews

Image Danish HoV Press Kit.
© New Line Productions Inc.
Fantastic performance from Viggo Mortensen.....he is absolutely a brilliant actor, he is the Robert de Niro of his generation, the Marlon Brando of his generation, the man is a genius. - Mark Kermode

A History of Violence Reviews

A History of Violence is right up there with The Shawshank Redemption for me; I've watched parts or all of it close to a dozen times on cable, never failing to marvel at the eight-minute showdown between Mortensen's character of Tom Stall and his loopy bro' Richie (William Hurt).

Validation for Viggo
Richard Horgan
22 January 2008

During the early stages of A History of Violence, as Mortensen is evoking the happy nothingness of an uneventful life, you might wonder if the actor is doing anything at all. Actually, he's hanging back. He is an ordinary man, and vengeful gangsters have turned up in his home town, claiming to recognize him from the bad old days. He claims they are mistaken. And it is to Mortensen's credit that, despite the movie's giveaway title, we still can't be certain until he reaches breaking point. The scene which confirms the truth is a masterclass in understatement - it's a shot rather than a scene, the merest flicker on Mortensen's face, but you couldn't say it wasn't dynamite. The actor nailed it on his first stab; Cronenberg knew instantly that there was no need for take two.

On Viggo Mortensen
By Ryan Gilbey
4 December 2007

Hands down, this is the best performance that Viggo Mortensen has given in a film yet. He is just breath-taking in the film......Viggo's acting here reminds me of vintage Harrison Ford, before... whatever happened to him. Think WITNESS or maybe even THE FUGITIVE. He's just very very good. He's not an actor counting the motions for a scene, but his eyes are alive, you can see fear and desperation in his face as he acts, you also see a resoluteness to do what has to be done. It's kinda perfect.

Ain't it Cool News
28 September 2005

... Mortensen's collaboration with Cronenberg is a wonder - it's difficult for me to imagine many actors who would be receptive to such a singular idea, let alone be able to put it into such vivid relief.

Kent Jones
Cinema Scope Magazine
Summer 2005

At the centre of A History Of Violence is a powerful and understated performance from Viggo Mortensen. He shimmers with decency as the epitome of American family values at the beginning of the film but, as the film progresses, the violence buried deep within his soul slowly seeps out. His Tom Stall has two completely different identities, both are held under control and he is able to snap between them at will. With skilful underplaying, Mortensen ensures that Stall's violent outbursts are shocking.

Jon Salt
Channel4.com Cannes Diary
17 May 2005

Combining the handsome looks and charismatic presence of a leading man with the acting style of a character actor, Mortensen is perfectly cast as a classic American hero, a man of action but of few words. The details that have gone into his work show with the way his character moves, speaks, and dresses.

Emanuel Levy
Cannes Festival Review
16 May 2005

Much of this fine balance depends on Mortensen's performance as the gentle, tough but taciturn family man, a part that builds quite overtly on the Gary Cooper template; and the role, as Tom's character further unfolds, sees Mortensen performing with remarkably well-judged understatement. In addition, he and Bello spark wonderfully in two complementary sex scenes that gauge the changes in Tom and Edie's relationship.

Jonathan Romney
Cannes Festival Review
16 May 2005

Fantastic performance from Viggo Mortensen.....he is absolutely a brilliant actor, he is the Robert de Niro of his generation, the Marlon Brando of his generation, the man is a genius.

Mark Kermode
BBC Radio Five Live
30 September 2005

Viggo Mortensen is transfixing as a heroic diner owner who may not be all that he seems........ in splendid brooding, bomb-ticking form as Tom Stall, the owner of a diner in a remote small town.

Tom Long
Detroit News
23 September 2005

One of the great strengths of this movie is the performances. Viggo's got a lot of his plate here, playing a character almost constantly at war with himself, and he nails it. There's no stupid tricks, where he changes his hairstyle or something when he goes back to being Joey. It's all done with the set of his shoulders, and his walk, and the look in his eyes, and it's chilling.

Anton Sirius
Ain't it Cool News
15 September 2005

Anchoring this fine film is Mortensen's Tom Stall - as iconic a cinematic hero if ever there was one - the kind of man everyone wants to be - all of the good things on the outside but a masterful warrior on the inside. The kind of man everyone fears because he is skilled and ruthless when he needs to be.

Mortensen needed to be good enough to keep the audience wondering who he really was. With his aqua blue eyes and chiseled jaw, he is every bit the American film hero - a Harrison Ford or a John Wayne, but with a darkness lurking beneath.....

.....As for Mr. Mortensen, his whole career seems to have been a set-up for this moment where he finally comes into his own and claims his own place among the best actors of his generation.

Sasha Stone
Santa Monica Mirror
28 September 2005

One of the reasons why this film works so well is that Mortensen does a brilliant job at being such a humble, honest, hardworking man that we want to believe that's who he actually is. The more violent Stall's persona progresses, he is still the person we are initially introduced to. At least that's what I kept telling myself.

Mortensen's power comes directly from his eyes. They speak much more than any line he delivers in the film and offer an astounding glimpse into the psyche of his character.

Christopher Childs
May 31, 2005

Viggo Mortensen is amazing, going through a subtle, slow-burn transformation, going from a sympathetic, harmless Everyman to a murderous monster.

Montreal Film Journal
19 September 2005

And, of course, Viggo Mortensen is ready for anything that might happen. Having slain a succession of monsters in the "Lord of the Rings" sagas, Mortensen finds himself doing some of the same work as Tom, the mild-mannered owner of a diner in small-town Indiana. It's a role that soon reveals itself as playing to Mortensen's strengths -- his humility, his forcefulness and a certain odd unknowable quality. Even before Tom proves himself a capable man when danger lurks, there's something about Mortensen -- or is it something he does as an actor? -- that makes the audience think, "No. There has to be more to this guy."

Mick LaSalle
San Francisco Chronicle
23 September 2005

Mortensen finds the perfect pitch for Tom. In this performance, we see a good, simple man who cares about his family and community. But we also see hints of something else - a darker, more decisive personality. During the film's first hour, I changed my mind several times about whether Tom was Joey, and a lot of that had to do with the way Mortensen plays the role.

James Berardinelli
September 2005

Mortensen, best known as the handsome, long-locked Aragon in "Lord of the Rings," ages and sinks before our eyes as the weight of circumstance slowly wears him into a different man.

Allison Benedikt
Chicago Tribune
23 September 2005

And finally, there is Viggo Mortenson. If anyone has ever been more perfectly cast than he is here as Tom Stall, I haven't seen the film. His performance is the tricky switch on which the entire History flips. His star turn is a master class in minimalism and exactly what the movie needs at every juncture.

Nathaniel Rogers
Film Experience
September 2005

Saying Viggo Mortensen is a good actor is old news. This, however, may well be the part the actor was born to play. Free of period elements or sword & sorcery costuming, Tom Stall is a character that somehow feels close to Viggo's own spirit. In person, Viggo is soft-spoken and unassuming; a simple man who enjoys acting but often appears overwhelmed by the celebrity status and lifestyle it has afforded him. Much like Tom, Viggo has tried his best to hold onto that normality, even as those stars around him crave the exact opposite. He excels as Tom in every scene. His performance appears totally effortless, which may be why it works so well. As the plot unfolds, Viggo's poker face is iron clad. There is no smirk or twitch or wandering eye to tip viewers off to the truth.

Jeff Otto
IGN Filmforce
22 September 2005

The performances are gorgeously expressive. Bello and Mortensen are real, heartfelt, drawing us deep into the characters' lives until we feel we know them, then surprising us, but always perfectly integrated to keep us connected to the characters.

Movie Mom
Yahoo! Movies
September 2005

Mortensen, playing a man who's infinitely more complicated than the movie's bucolic opening scenes suggest, gives a subtle, understated performance, letting us see his blue eyes slowly grow chilly.

Moira Macdonald
The Seattle Times
23 September 2005

Mortensen, of "The Lord of the Rings" fame, is remarkable in another typically understated role. He's stoic but not distanced - you stay with him, even when you begin to suspect Tom may be keeping a secret.

Josh Larsen
Sun Publications, Chicago
September 2005

Tom begins as a deceptively simple character, open and warm, and gradually shifts to reveal a darker, more dubious personality. Mortensen delivers a tremendous performance, the shadings in the character coming out slowly, subtly, sometimes with just the shift of the eye.

Pam Grady
Film Stew
23 September 2005

Mortensen gives the most complete performance of his career here, creating an everyman with a talent we have to believe he's instinctually capable of, yet weary to have. He has to be noble, oblivious and lethal at a moment's notice. Like his family, we want him to be our protector but will still fear him once the box where he's been hiding has been opened.

Erik Childress
E Filmcritic
23 September 2005

The statuesque blankness that makes Mortensen such a terrifically majestic Aragorn in the ``The Lord of the Rings'' but a problematic regular Joe serves him well here, giving Tom a weird veneer of phoniness. When his bland ``Tom'' starts talking in a Philly accent, it really gives you the creeps.

James Verniere
Boston Herald
23 September 2005

As an actor, Mortensen carries an aura of hidden depths below false affability that's just right for the character. He's totally believable in all his incarnations here, even if the script is not, and, as much as anything he's done, it defines his star persona.

William Arnold
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
23 September 2005

The sharpest scenes are those where Mortensen turns into a stranger in front of his wife, Edie (Maria Bello), a sexy lawyer whose loyalty gradually crumbles into hysteria as her husband hardens like cement before her eyes. Even his vocabulary and accent change.

James Christopher
The Times (UK)
29 September 2005

The Lord Of The Rings star is superb in this fascinating and original tale of a man who is accused of being a modern-day Godfather.....The strength of this film is Mortensen's performance, which makes him believable as the kindly Tom but has enough menace to make you question whether he could have a gun-toting alter ego.

Polly Graham
News of the World (UK)
September 25, 2005

This is where the film enters its most gripping phase, and Mortensen's performance is crucial. Ever since his Aragorn in The Lord of The Rings Mortensen has been a go-to man for understated virility and integrity that simply cannot accommodate the possibility of deceit. But this isn't Middle Earth, it's the Midwest, where a man just might come to bury his old identity and start anew.
What Mortensen does brilliantly is to keep us guessing.

Anthony Quinn
The Independent (UK)
30 September 2005

Sex and violence, allure and repulsion, the rifle-toting homesteader and the killer - they all nestle somewhere to varying degrees in human nature, just as they do in Mortensen's haunting performance.

Jim Ridley
Nashville Scene
29 September 2005

The horror creeps in slowly and when we become his captives, we too, face the dilemma like the un-knowing wife and the son who discovers a father he didn't know. Viggo Mortensen succeeds in presenting this human schizophrenic with those innocent blue eyes that can equally hide infinite cruelty.

Cronenberg's Violence
GLZonline Cannes Review, by Gidi Orsher, translated by Natica
May 2005

The beating pulse of the movie comes from Bello and Mortensen, both of whom are award worthy. Viggo might have had a haircut since his middle-earth days, but he's lost none of his power. Look into his eyes, you'll see his soul.

Paul Greenwood
Future Movies
29 September 2005

Without giving away too much of the story, I'll say this: Mortensen is brilliant in what evolves into a challenging and complex role. He is every bit the family man and small town personality you want him to be, and from the moment he becomes a hero he incrementally shows you so much more.

As Tom's present battles his past, his internal struggles over violence as a solution to saving his family are written all over Mortensen's face and come screaming from his body language. His performance is powerful.

Brett Troxler
The Advocate
Baton Rouge
1 October 2005

By playing so close to filmic conventions, Cronenberg subverts them. From the media thirst for gory detail to the audience's perverse longing for the next good punch in the face, this is more than just a violent film. It digs into the very heart of violence in American culture.

To that end, leading-man Mortensen is perfect. Not only does the actor possess the matinee-idol looks and dripping-testosterone sex appeal of an action-star god, but he carries all the hero baggage of his orc-slaying days in Middle Earth. It doesn't hurt that his performance is as shaded and nuanced as the film itself, or that his chemistry with Bello is genuine and complex.

Amanda Andrade
Michigan Daily
October 03, 2005

But I come back to Mortensen, who holds everything else together. If for no other reason, watch 'Violence' to see and hear the nuances of his performance. There's something he's doing with his voice in this movie that gets to the character in such a subtle yet important way, little mannerisms that reveal secrets - or hide them. For all of Cronenberg's precise direction, for all the right notes hit by Harris, Holmes, and William Hurt in a brilliant late-arrival role, for the bravery of Olsen's screenplay not to work itself out in such expectedly simple ways, it's Mortensen's performance that slaps us the hardest in this movie. With the smallest of moves, the most understated of plays, he connects us to Tom in ways few actors could. And it's this connection that allows 'Violence' to run so very deep, to shake us to the bone, to wake us up and get us asking questions.

David Cornelius
1 October 2005

Mortensen masterfully pulls off the task of playing a man who's playing a part, and the glimpses of Tom's old self that occasionally shine through in his performance are brought forth subtly and believably.

Josh Bell
Las Vegas Weekly
29 September 2005

Like the best parts of "A History of Violence," the scene leaves you (and the characters) unsettled, unsure whether to be repulsed or turned on, to giggle or look away. Cronenberg keeps things expertly unbalanced like that throughout.
He's helped by a terrific Mortensen, who makes subtle, surprising acting choices. Like his family members, we don't know whether to fear for him, or just fear him, in a world that's suddenly turned upside down.

Steve Murray
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
October 2005

Mortensen, who sometimes seemed a little overburdened by the weight of heroic expectation piled on to Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, is a triumphant lead here for precisely the same reason: that weight needs to seem too much for Tom, and it does. At the same time, the performance is a demanding juggling act in which puzzlement and apprehension, knowledge and ignorance must co- exist at nearly every juncture, and it's one that Mortensen pulls off with masterly, self-effacing dexterity.

Tim Robey
The Daily Telegraph
30 September 2005

If you see this film twice, you'll see two different performances from Viggo, and that's the real genius of the movie. The first time through, you're watching him the same way his family is, accepting him as Tom Stall, loving family man, quiet and kind and nearly invisible. But when you see it a second time, you'll see Joey Cusack lurking behind those eyes, pushing through even in the moments before the thugs bring violence back into his life.

Ain't it Cool News
29 September 2005

Appearances are deceptive, indeed. What's more, Mortensen skillfully injects that deception into his chameleon performance. His features themselves seem to evolve, soft at first and then growing hard, progressing (regressing) from cherubic choirboy to flinty-eyed thug and back again.

Rick Groen
The Globe and Mail
23 September 2005

The performances are uniformly excellent from a beautifully chosen cast, especially Viggo Mortensen as the mild-mannered patriarch (though as his character evolves, he's essentially playing two roles, distinctly and believably).

Christy Lemire
MSNBC News/Associated Press
21 September 2005

Appearances are deceptive, indeed. What's more, Mortensen skillfully injects that deception into his chameleon performance. His features themselves seem to evolve, soft at first and then growing hard, progressing (regressing) from cherubic choirboy to flinty-eyed thug and back again.

Rick Groen
The Globe and Mail
23 September 2005

No matter what, Mortensen's performance is transfixing, with every contradiction and internal struggle crawling slowly, subtly across his face and furrowed brow. He brings a vulnerability and a danger to the character of Tom Stall that play beautifully against one another.

Tom Long
Detroit News
24 September 2005

From an acting point of view, however, this film belongs to Mortensen and Bello as a severely challenged husband and wife. Making use of Mortensen's sweetness and vulnerability as well as his "Lord of the Rings" physicality, Tom Stall is one of the best roles Mortensen has had, and he takes full advantage of it.

Kenneth Turan
LA Times
24 September 2005

Viggo Mortensen stars in one of the best performances of his career.

Roger Ebert
Cannes Festival Review
Chicago Sun-Times
May 17, 2005

Cronenberg's wonderful film, adapted by Josh Olson from John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel, is exceptionally well-shot, leanly directed and brilliantly acted by Viggo Mortensen, Bello, Ed Harris and William Hurt.

Alan Jones
Cannes Review May 2005

Capably proving that he's a hell of a lot more than a sword-swinging Lord of the Rings, Viggo Mortensen delivers a performance that's as quietly commanding as it is deeply sympathetic.

September 2005

Mortensen is terrific and with one word and another gesture transforms himself.

Victoria Alexander

A History of Violence proves that [Viggo] can hold a film together with the best of them. His quiet intensity plays a double duty: in the film's early scenes, it draws us to him; in later scenes, it makes us fear him.

Ain't it Cool News
21 September 2005

Mortensen, best known for the Lord of the Rings trilogy but at his best in smaller films that make larger demands (The Indian Runner, The Portrait of a Lady, A Walk on the Moon), meets every challenge of a role that calls for subtlety and sureness.

Peter Travers
Rolling Stone
22 September 2005

...Viggo Mortensen plays a small-town American paterfamilias, equal parts Marlboro Man and Terminator...

A Nice Place to Film, but Heavens, Not to Live
Manohla Dargis, New York Times, 11Sept 2005

Mortensen is a superb anti-hero of sorts in Cronenberg's visceral interpretation of the popular graphic novel.

Toronto Film Festival Report by Paul Fischer
Dark Horizons September 11th, 2005

Viggo ("Don't call me Strider") Mortensen delivers one phenomenal performance in this tale of sudden violence, latent lifestyles, and unpleasant gunplay.

Scott Weinberg
Toronto Report
12 September 2005

Mortensen undercuts his trademark rugged nobility with a subtle manic edge that feeds the film's mood of imminent mayhem without prematurely resolving its ambiguity.

Wendy Banks
Now Magazine, 8 September 2005

A lot of that delicious uncertainty comes courtesy of Mortensen: his cleverness, these last ten years or so he's been showing up on our screens, not to let himself get pigeonholed or stereotyped pays off in a big way here -- there's a skittery kind of unease under Tom's bland, all-American everyman exterior that could be read in several ways, all of them directly contradictory to the others. You simply cannot predict what Tom will turn out to be because, thank the movie gods, there is no "Viggo Mortensen" screen persona: he's too vastly different every time he appears on film.

Maryann Johanson

Last edited: 16 February 2010 04:12:22