The Reluctant Hero
29 September 2005
Bristol Evening Post
After a number of years in the creative wilderness, David Cronenberg returns to blistering form with this unflinching portrait of the brutality that can pervade small-town life without warning.
Adapted from John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel by screenwriter Josh Olson, A History Of Violence is a shocking cautionary tale as well as a riveting thriller about identity and the ghosts of the past.
Doting husband and family man Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) runs a diner in the picture-postcard town of Millbrook, Indiana.
He is still giddily in love with his lawyer wife Edie (Maria Bello) and is an inspiration to his children Jack (Ashton Holmes) and Sarah (Heidi Hayes).
As Tom and his colleagues prepare to close the diner one night, two strangers (Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk) walk in and demand coffee and pie.
When Tom politely refuses, the outsiders become agitated and pull guns on the terrified staff and patrons.
Reacting instinctively, Tom smashes a pot of hot coffee in the face of one man and grabs his gun.
Shots are fired and the two aggressors are pronounced dead at the scene.
The media swarms, to Tom's intense embarrassment: 'Are you as sick of hearing about me as I am?' he asks Edie.
Feted by the locals - the town's newspaper proudly leads with the headline 'Tom Stall: Local Hero' - Tom desperately tries to shun the publicity and return to normality.
Another stranger, Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), arrives at the diner with two goons in tow and Edie mistakes him for a journalist.
In fact, Carl is a shady figure from the criminal underworld, who believes that mild-mannered Tom is really a hired killer from Philadelphia called Joey Cusack.
Tom laughs at such a ridiculous notion.
Town sheriff Sam Carney (Peter MacNeill) confirms Tom and Edie's worst fears: 'These guys are organised crime from the East Coast. The real thing - bad men.'
While Tom maintains his innocence, Edie and the kids begin to consider the outlandish possibility that the man they love is an impostor.
A History Of Violence opens with a deceptively gentle tracking shot that follows the two gun men as they check out of a motel.
'I had a little trouble with the maid,' smiles one man; the first ominous indication that there is something rotten in backwater America.
Cronenberg doesn't let the tension slacken for an instant, punctuating the unfolding drama with explosions of sickening violence, building to a nerve-racking finale.
Mortensen uses his gentle everyman charm to startling effect, generating a white-hot screen chemistry with Bello's disbelieving wife.
The deliciously ambiguous final scene lingers long in the memory.
Last edited: 10 May 2006 03:15:11