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New Line Home Cinema presents
A History of Violence (2005)

Tom Stall: In this family, we do not solve problems by hitting people!
Jack Stall: No, in this family, we shoot them!

- Viggo Mortensen, Ashton Holmes

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: March 13, 2006

Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Ashton Holmes
Other Stars: Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Sumela Kay, Kyle Schmid, Deborah Drakeford, Gerry Quigley, Heidi Hayes, Aidan Devine, Bill MacDonald
Director: David Cronenberg

MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, lanugage, and some drug use
Run Time: 01h:35m:35s
Release Date: March 14, 2006
UPC: 794043100956
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-AA- A-

DVD Review

Small-town diner owner Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) appears to embody the dream of middle-class America. His family includes a beautiful, successful wife and two kids who seem to stay out of trouble. He owns a local diner with colorful employees and a pleasant atmosphere, perfect for a Hollywood fantasy. Thankfully, this film comes from director David Cronenberg (Spider, The Fly), so Tom's life will undoubtedly quickly fall into turmoil. One night, at closing time, small-time killers Leland Jones (Stephen McHattie) and his nephew Billy (Greg Bryk) enter the diner and bring an end to Tom's ideal situation. When these nefarious guys take everyone hostage, the situation appears extremely grim. Amazingly, the mild-mannered Tom performs heroically and saves the day, killing Leland and Billy in the process. But the firestorm created by this event go well beyond the typical congratulations for protecting his fellow townspeople.

A History of Violence explores the rampant effects of the brutal actions, which bring about changes in the Stall family's personality. Following the holdup, the media follows Tom everywhere and hails him as an American hero. His son Jack (Ashton Holmes) considers a much-different manner for dealing with the high-school bully that pesters him constantly. The popular Charlie Roarke (Aidan Devine) initially has little luck taunting the clever Jack, but seeing the praise heaped on his father could change his reaction. Even Tom's wife Edie (Maria Bello) looks upon her husband differently and wonders if there's more agression behind his calm persona. These moments occur in typical fashion and don't appear to be leading us in an original direction. However, screenwriter Josh Olson's next move pulls the rug out from under us and causes the audience to question the intentions of the likable hero.

The hoopla generated by the holdup drew many new customers to the diner, but none were as disturbing as Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), a one-eyed gangster from the East Coast. The video coverage of Tom has attracted his attention, and his comments to our hero are especially confusing. Carl is convinced that Tom is a completely different person named Joey from Philadelphia, and his statements do not appear very friendly. Does Tom have a past life hidden by a false nice-guy exterior? This possibility seems unlikely, but small indications do begin to appear that Carl may not be totally out of line. Discovering the answers to this question and other key issues becomes a compelling experience that ranks among the better times available at the movies in the past year.

The performances are excellent across the board. As Tom Stall, Viggo Mortensen channels the heroic side that served him well as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, he also introduces the creepier elements of his personality to keep us from being sure about Tom's reliability. Maria Bello stands up well to her imposing co-star and shines during several extremely difficult scenes. The film includes two very different sex scenes between the married couple that require Bello to covey a wide range of emotions. William Hurt received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for a small role late in the film, and he does a fine job. However, Ed Harris deserves equal mention for making Fogarty a creepy villain. Both actors play against type and generate tough, believable characters.

A History of Violence appears to differ considerably from Cronenberg's less-commercial fare, but the story incorporates many of his usual themes into a deceptive product. The formula presented in the trailer appears to promise more standard fare, which explains the baffled responses from the general filmgoing audience. This extreme violence is designed to shock us out of the comfort zone of Hollywood convention, which can be an unsettling experience. However, the well-rounded characters and impressive acting keep us involved in the story and enhance the disturbing effects of the bursts of violence. Although more grounded than some of Cronenberg's craziest work, this film still packs a strong punch.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A History of Violence is offered in an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that effectively presents the small-town setting. The blood is especially red, which helps the graphic moments to jump from the screen. This transfer includes a minimal amount of grain, keeping you involved in the gripping story throughout the movie.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This disc provides an enjoyable 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that spreads the complex audio across the entire sound field. The sound jumps powerfully from the front speakers and helps to give the necessary jolt to the audience. Howard Shore's attractive score shines. This release also includes a 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track, which delivers the audio well enough to sell the story.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Take the Lead, 11:14, Havoc, Domino
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director David Cronenberg
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This New Line Platinum Edition of A History of Violence includes several impressive extras, described in the following sections:

Acts of Violence (1:06:13)
This excellent documentary chronicles every element of the picture in detail and includes a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes footage. David Cronenberg, the cast, and crew avoid the typical promotional statements that destroy many promising features. Instead, they speak intelligently about the creative process and avoid speaking down to the viewer. The piece is separated into eight acts: Random, American Hero, Bully, Eye for an Eye, Lies, Gangster Sex, Sibling Rivalry, and Hope. We learn specifics about crafting the graphic violence and delivering the pivotal moments. The tough sex scenes also receive impressive coverage, which shows some great collaboration between Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and the director. Cinema lovers should definitely check out this intriguing documentary, which ranks among the better features that I've seen this year.

Commentary with Director David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg is a fascinating director and almost always delivers a worthwhile product, but his commentaries suffer from way too much plot summary. He speaks from scene to scene and rarely delves into the larger issues that would truly interest film lovers. His conversational tone makes it an easy listen, but the overall effect is pretty disappointing.

Scene 44 (Deleted) (2:46)This excised scene involves Ed Harris in a dream sequence; Tom blows the gangster Fogerty to bits, but is unable to kill him. In his optional commentary, Cronenberg explains that the removal occurred to keep the story from going too far over the top.

The Unmaking of Scene 44 (7:05)
This featurette goes behind-the-scenes of the shooting of this bloody scene, which involves Harris flying back several feet and landing hard on the ground. Cronenberg again discusses the reasons for its removal, which don't feel repetitive and remain interesting.

Violence's History: United States Version vs. International Version (1:23)
This brief featurette presents the two violent scenes that required minor cuts to attain an R rating in the United States. The changes seem very minor and don't appear to affect the film significantly. One repeated moment of a cracked neck is not very pleasant to watch, though.

Too Commercial for Cannes (8:52)
This enjoyable featurette follows Cronenberg around the Cannes film festival and shows him giving numerous interviews with press from around the world. The director has a joyous demeanor while answering the same types of questions repeatedly, which makes him an endearing figure. The events conclude with the premiere screening, which does elicit a lengthy standing ovation from the audience.

Theatrical Trailer/Sneak Peeks
The film's theatrical trailer runs for two-and-a-half minutes and gives away a bit too much. The disc also includes annoying pre-menu trailers for Take the Lead, 11:14, Havoc, and Domino.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A History of Violence is not a film for all tastes, but its complex narrative should please viewers willing to endure the nasty violence. This Platinum Edition release also includes some worthy extras that effectively complement the film. If you missed this picture during its theatrical run, I highly recommend you give it a chance on DVD.


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