Hippo Manchester
October 6, 2005

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A History of Violence (R)
by Amy Diaz

Viggo Mortensen proves as handy with the gun as he was with the sword in A History of Violence.

Youíve seen the trailers so you know that thereís more to the mild-mannered, middle-American guy who runs a diner and has a family than it would first appear. Tom Stall (Mortensen) is the very picture of decency, even dealing politely with the rude, obviously trouble-making men who enter his homey small-town diner. But then the men pull out guns, threaten the staff and customers and something happens. Tom morphs into a coiled spring of violence who quickly dispatches the two interlopers into this American Eden.

Wife Edie (Maria Bello), still deeply and passionately in love with her husband even after a few decades of marriage, is concerned, of course, and proud. Son Jack (Ashton Holmes), a nice guy who gets picked on at school, seems shocked by his dadís sudden ferociousness and even a little freed by it (unleashing a little rage of his own when pushed too far). Even the burst of fame Tom experiences doesnít change the fact that this family knows and loves its patriarch.

Until, of course, a few shady men in suits come to town. A man named Fogarty (Ed Harris) expresses a sort of smirking familiarity with Tom as well. Tom, he argues, is just a pose of decency and even some meekness assumed by a cocky killer named Joey. Joey left enemies back in Philadelphia and, resurrected by violence, Joey now needs to answer for past trouble.

Thus is the family thrown into some turmoil ó who are these men and who is Joey? Who, for that matter, is Tom? The movie plays it very close to the vest with these things, allowing us to soak in the sense of confusion and the mounting feeling that something is horribly wrong. Bello perfectly portrays this creepy, stomach-twisting sort of anxiety. Sheís a smart woman who is, in some ways, the householdís dominant personality until she begins to wonder if she really knows all the personalities in her house.

David Cronenberg, this movieís director, does a masterful job of keeping us in the dark about things and allowing uncertainty and fear to take center stage. He makes excellent use of Mortensenís flexibility, giving us time to watch Mortensenís face for personality changes and half-hidden emotion.

Fun and thoroughly unpredictable even when you know whatís happening, A History of Violence is a hot action movie with a cool intelligence.