A History of Violence (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

A History of Violence is David Cronenberg's newest, best-reviewed and most accessible movie.

It centers around a modest small-town diner owner who somehow manages to overpower two murderous armed robbers, thus saving the lives of many people and becoming a national media figure. He soon realizes that it's not always good to have your face broadcast nationally, especially if you have something to hide, as he just may. Three mobsters watch the TV coverage of the incident and become convinced that Tom the diner owner is actually Joan Cusack. Oh, the horror! No, wait. He's too good-looking and not manly enough to be Joan. Make that Joey Cusack, a notorious Philadelphia hit man who disappeared two decades earlier.

The Philly mobsters show up in Podunk inconspicuously enough in their enormous black sedan with tinted windows. I guess they didn't want to attract any attention. Of course, that miscalculation was minor compared to the truly enormous error they made. If they really thought this guy was Joey Cusack, and were planning to threaten his family, they should have showed up with a lot more mobsters. Within a short time, all three of them are lying stone cold in the Podunk morgue.

By this time the local sheriff and the diner owner's wife are starting to figure out that something doesn't quite add up.  Although they have known humble, aw-shucks Tom for twenty years, and had been reluctant to believe him to be anything other than the the lovable churchgoin' family man he has always seemed to be, they are a bit suspicious that he moves like a ninja and has been able to dispose of five professional killers smoother than Charles Bronson on his best day. They reason that the only possible explanation is that he really is Joey Cusack.

Is he? You'll need to watch the film to determine that.

This is an excellent and suspenseful mystery, as well as an audience-satisfying revenge thriller in the Charles Bronson mode, but I don't believe I would have guessed the identity of the director if I had not already known it. It's like Cronenberg has been watching some Sam Peckinpah films and decided to make one of his own. You just know Warren Oates would have played one of the desperadoes if he were still alive.

I'm not sure why the critics have felt a need to justify their positive response to the film by assigning it alleged layers of depth and artistic merit. Frankly, that's reading way too much into it. It's a terrific film, but it's not deep or realistic or nuanced or artistic. It's a comic book adaptation, fer chrissakes! It is a helluva bloodlust film, though. It glorifies the use of violence at appropriate times, then it makes us enjoy the violence against the characters we hate, and then it rubs our noses into our own bloodlust and tells us to be ashamed of the pleasure we just felt. The reaction of the critics, the need to make the film more than that, proves a point in itself. We like to see violence used against bullies. We root for the bullies to get hurt badly, even killed, but we do not like to admit it. Not many critics are willing to admit that they simply enjoyed the skillful way the film satisfied their bloodlust, so they need to sublimate that barbaric reaction into something which seems to reflect the brighter angels of their nature.

Well, I liked the violence, dammit. I'm not a violent person, but I got a rush during this film when the diner owner's wimpy son stood up to the high school bully, and I actually enjoyed seeing him pound the face of the wise-ass to a bloody pulp. You know what? I was disappointed when he stopped! I enjoyed watching some of the film's other baddies meet their fates as well. And then I hated myself for feeling that way. That is the great achievement in Cronenberg's direction of this film - that he manages to make us love the extreme violence, thus proving that each of us, no matter how much he pretends to be Tom the diner owner, has a Joey Cusack inside of him.



  • No info currently available



Maria Bello shows her pubic hair and one nipple when she enters a room in an open robe. Tuna writes: "There is also a wonderful sex scene where Maria Bello dresses up as a cheerleader when the kids are out, and the two have hot sex, including 69 (the first such scene in a mainstream American film)."

Viggo Mortensen shows the top of his bum in an impromptu sex scene.

Tuna's notes

Two rather bored companions check out of a cheap motel. One goes in to settle the bill, then the other goes in to fill a water jug. It is only then we realize that the first man has killed the desk clerk and a maid. A little girl walks in on the scene, and the second man shoots her in the head with no qualms.

Cut to a small Indiana town, where we meet the all-American Stall family. The father (Viggo Mortensen) owns a small diner, his wife (Maria Bello) is an attorney, his young daughter worries about monsters in the dark, and his teenaged son is a favorite target of a high school bully.

The next evening, the two bad guys from the opening scene arrive at the father's diner at closing time, and threaten everyone there. He unexpectedly disarms and kills them with clinical precision. The incident is reported nationally, and he is suddenly hailed as a hero across the country, but doesn't much seem to like his new-found fame. When three Mafia types arrive at the dinner, we learn why. Mortensen was a gang hit man in his former life, and the gang is after him.

The rest of the film is full of violence as Mortensen attempts to eliminate the ghosts of his past life. It is not only murder we see, but many other examples of violence as well. Mortensen sort of rapes his wife. His son stands up to the bully and puts him in the hospital, an act for for which the father slaps him, whereupon the mother slaps the father Mortensen.

A History of Violence is rather conventional by David Cronenberg's standards, but this in no way diminishes its impact. This is my favorite to date of Cronenberg's films. I have not seen all of last year's Oscar contenders, but this is the best picture I have seen from last year. On one level, it is a simple revenge film, but on another, it speaks volumes about the nature of violence itself. What makes the film so intriguing is that the audience becomes completely complicit in the violence, after which Cronenberg shows the grotesque results of it, demonstrating how near extreme violence is to the surface of all of us.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three and a half stars. James Berardinelli - 3/4, Roger Ebert - 3.5/4, Entertainment Weekly - A.

  • British consensus out of four stars: three stars. Mail 8/10, Telegraph 7/10, Independent 8/10, Guardian 8/10, Times 8/10, Express 10/10, Mirror 8/10, FT 4/10,  BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on these criteria, Scoop writes, "C+. It's an excellent genre film, but far too violent and sexual to be a crossover hit. I thought that there was no possibility for any other film to rival Sin City as the best comic book adaptation of 2005, but this one gives Rodriguez a run for his money." (Tuna's grade: B)

Return to the Movie House home page