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Viggo Mortensen Faces Off With Ed Harris in A History of Violence

Jul 2, 2006 (Updated Dec 27, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and Ed Harris. Intriguing plot.

Cons:Very violent at times. A few things really weren't resolved. Some slow places.

The Bottom Line: A History of Violence deals with serious issues that could disturb some viewers. Fans of the cast should give it chance.


I was interested in seeing A History of Violence the first time I saw a preview for it. The movie looked very interesting and I really like Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris. Unfortunately, the movie ever made it to the theater here so I had to wait until it was out on DVD to see it. I was recently able to see the movie.

Tom and Edie Stall were happily married and raising their two children, Jack and Sarah, in Millbrook Indiana. They had a quiet life. All that changed the night that Tom stopped two men that tried to rob his diner. The two men ended up dead and Tom was considered a hero for saving the people in the diner. The story about what happened received national media attention. Tom just wanted things to go back to normal, but that wasn’t going to happen. Carl Fogarty arrived at the diner to see Tom. Carl claimed that Tom was really a man named Joey from Philadelphia. Tom insisted that Carl was mistaken but Carl wouldn’t go away. He even followed Edie and Sarah when they went shopping one day. Carl raised questions to Edie that caused her to start doubting her husband. Tom was forced to resort to violence again to protect himself and his family and another man from Philadelphia, Ritchie, was interested in Tom.

A History of Violence started off a little slow with a scene that I couldn’t figure out how it was going to connect to the overall plot. That scene quickly turned very intense and it how it connected to the plot was seen just a little while later. The pace was still progressing slowly when the Stall family was introduced. I didn’t think that part was dragging though because it served to set up the characters and show how they lived their lives before everything was shattered by sudden violence. I think it was important to establish that to show just how drastically that one night changed everything for the family. At first it seemed like they would just have to deal with the media attention for a little while. Then Carl showed up and made it clear he was convinced that Tom was someone else. I did think that events unfolded at a steady pace without being rushed or too slow. One or two scenes did seem to drag just a little bit. There were bursts of action at different times throughout the movie. That did help to keep things interesting. The movie did keep my interest and I was surprised by several things that happened.

When Tom acted to stop the two men at the diner, there was never any question that he acted in self defense, saving his own life along with everyone else in the diner. Everything was very straight forward until Carl showed up. He was acting mysterious when he sat down and was baiting Tom, calling him Joey. Carl’s appearance raised questions and did create some mystery related to Tom and his identity. From that point on, I was wondering if Carl was wrong and Tom was just unfortunate enough to look a lot like Joey or if Tom was in fact Joey and had kept a very big secret for years. Even Edie started to have doubts after Carl made a point to talk to her privately, telling her things Joey had done. It was interesting to see how Edie handled everything that was going on, including her growing doubts. There was a resolution to the mystery about who Tom was - no I’m not telling. Even once that was known for sure, other questions and situations were raised to cause other complications. Most of those other things were resolved by the end of the movie. I did still feel like a few things weren’t completly resolved though. The final was very powerful, but it didn’t answer all the questions I had. It’s like it was being left up to viewers to give their own interpretation. I would have liked an ending that was more definite.

Before I saw A History of Violence, I’d heard a lot about the violence and how graphic it was. I’d known from the previews that the movie would be violent since some of that was shown. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I finally did watch it and I was a little apprehensive about just how violent it would be. The movie wasn’t full of non stop violence. There were really only a few scenes that included violence. There were hints of the violence to come later within the first few minutes of the movie. The first really violent scene happened when Tom stopped the robbery in the diner. Tom jumped into action, quickly dealing with both men. The scene was very bloody, especially one shot, and could be too graphic for some viewers. Later in the movie, Tom was pushed into using violence again. Those scenes were also graphic and could bother some viewers. Jack even had his own brush with violence at school when he had to deal with a bully. There was actually less violence in the movie than I had expected before seeing it. That didn’t make those scenes any less intense. The movie really focused on the after effects of the short bursts of violence instead of the violence itself. The word that rhymes with luck was used many times over the course of the movie. The movie deserved the R rating. This isn’t a movie that children should see.

I also heard about the sex scenes in A History of Violence before I saw the movie. Tom and Edie had been married long enough to have a son in high school. They still had a loving relationship that included an active sex life. Or at least as active as it could be with their two children in the house. There were only two sex scenes in the movie. The first one was rather tame and didn’t have any nudity though it was made clear that mutual oral sex was going on. The second sex scene happened after complications were introduced. The sex was more intense and even somewhat violent, which might bother some viewers. Tom’s bare backside was shown during the scene. Shortly after that scene ended, Edie was shown leaving the bathroom wearing a robe. The robe was open and her body was briefly shown. Tom had his shirt off in one or two other scenes and Edie’s bare back was shown once. That was it for nudity in the movie. Because of everything I had heard about the sex scenes before seeing the movie, I expected them to be more shocking than they turned out to be.

Tom Stall was a simple man living a quiet life with his family when A History of Violence started. He was a loving husband and father that appreciated it when his wife took the time to arrange an evening alone for them. He used violence to stop a robbery attempt and became a hero. After that, the possibility that Tom had a big secret in his past was raised. Tom was a more complex character than he seemed to be at first. Viggo Mortensen was great in the part. Tom didn’t say a lot through most of the movie, so his actions spoke the most. Mortensen handled that well, expressing so much with just a look in many scenes. He was very believable in all aspects of the part. I am surprised that he didn’t get nominated for some awards for this performance. I also thought that he was very good in The Lord of the Rings movies and A Perfect Murder.

Edie was a lawyer and loving wife and mother. Her world was turned upside down by what happened. Maria Bello gave a very powerful performance, also using her expressions to help convey what the character was thinking or feeling. She did receive some award nominations for her performance that were well deserved. I also thought she was good in Secret Window. Jack was Tom and Edie’s oldest child. Jack was in high school though I’m not sure exactly how old he was. Jack was having some trouble with a bully at school that he tried to handle with logic instead of violence. Ashton Holmes was fine in the part. Sarah was a lot younger than her brother. I think she was around five. She was a very cute little girl. She wasn’t in as many scenes as Jack was. Heidi Hayes was fine in the part.

Carl Fogarty showed up in town looking for Tom. He never really said for sure, but I think Carl must have seen some one of the national news stories about what Tom had done. From the first moment he showed up, he had a sinister look. I felt that way even before he took off his sunglasses to show off the scaring around one damaged eye. This was not someone I’d want to meet in a dark alley. Or even a very well lit mall. He was convinced that Tom was really Joey and wasn’t planning to go back to Philadelphia without him. Carl didn’t have plans for a friendly reunion either. Ed Harris was chilling in the part. I’ve never seen him play a part like this before. He was very believable in the part. I think I have liked every performance that I’ve seen from Harris. He had a larger part playing a very different type of character in Absolute Power.

Peter MacNeill was in a few short scenes as Sam, the local Sheriff and family friend. Richie Cusack was a very powerful man in Philadelphia that also believed that Tom was Joey. Richie was interested in seeing Joey again. William Hurt only had a few scenes as Richie. The accent he used for the character sounded a bit strange to me, like he was over doing it. I did think he was over acting some in the part. Evidently others didn’t agree since he was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar for this part. Frankly, I think Ed Harris was much better in the part of Carl. I enjoyed Hurt’s performance in The Village. His part was larger in that and I didn’t feel like he was going over board like he did in this one.

Main Cast

Maria Bello - Edie Stall
Ed Harris - Carl Fogarty
Heidi Hayes - Sarah Stall
Ashton Holmes - Jack Stall
William Hurt - Richie Cusack
Peter MacNeill - Sam
Viggo Mortensen - Tom Stall

David Cronenberg - Director

A History of Violence was based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. I haven’t read that so I don’t know how much the movie is different from the source material.

A History of Violence is now available on DVD, which is how I saw it. There are several extras included and I did watch most of them. There were several short features about the making of the movie. Each one focused in on a different aspect of the movie or a specific scene and explained how certain things were done. Members of the cast and crew talked in each one and were occasionally shown joking around between takes. One of them briefly showed Ed Harris going through make up to achieve his character’s look. Some of the special make up effects that were used to show the different injuries certain characters received. Some computer effects were also used in a few of those scenes. I never would have known that if I hadn’t watched these extras. The effects blended in very well. Another one showed the differences in two shots between what was released in the United States and other countries around the world. The version for the United States had some minor editing that basically just removed some squirting blood in the two shots in question.

One of the features did focus in on the second sex scene, showing the preparation for the scene and how it was shot. The movie was part of the Canes film festival in 2005, and some things related to that were filmed. There was one deleted scene included. The scene really wasn’t important to the plot overall, though after watching it and seeing where it would have been in the movie, something from the following scene made more sense. There was a section that showed how that scene was shot as well. Some interesting things were done in that scene. I did enjoy the extras. There is a commentary by the director included that I didn’t get the chance to check out.

A History of Violence contained some things that could be too graphically violent for some viewers. This was a very intense movie that isn’t for everyone. I do think it is worth watching, especially for fans of the cast.

Viggo Mortensen Movies
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ~ The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ~ The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ~ A Perfect Murder ~


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