A History of Violence

A History of Violence

Just my luck. I’m trying to come to grips with the most unsettling American film produced in several years, while circumstances dictate a deadline that nearly keeps me from thinking about the movie-much less writing about it. So please regard all that follows, not as a formal critique, but as “Notes toward the Definition of A History of Violence,” a film written by Josh Olson and directed by David Cronenberg.

Story: A prologue shows two sociopathic drifters committing a brutal motel robbery-massacre, the horror of which is excruciatingly amplified by the listlessness of its presentation. Then we are rerouted into the middle-class life of Tom and Edie Stall (Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello) in a small town in Indiana. Without a trace of condescension or smiley-twinkly italicizing, we are shown how happy these two are, how snugly they fit into small-town life, how modestly profitable their diner is (Edie is also an attorney, but her practice has little connection to the story), the pride the couple takes in their two children, and the playful sensuality they still enjoy in the bedroom. All this might reek of the plastic normality of TV sitcoms, but the freshness and economy of the acting and direction keep it palatable. Palatable but doomed, since we know that the criminals must be coming to town and the Stalls are bound to be their prey. Sure enough, the murderers enter the eatery near closing time, lock the...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.