A review of “A History of Violence” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for brutal violence, graphic sexuality and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

 

 

Viggo Mortensen can do no wrong in my book. David Cronenberg’s dark and dirty thriller adds even more fuel to my Viggo-inflamed fire.

Small town living has never felt as pristine as it does in Millbrook, Indiana where Tom Stall (Mortensen) and his wife Edie (Maria Bello) are just plain folks raising two kids the old-fashioned way.

Tom and Edie’s quiet existence takes on a threatening shift when a pair of vicious drifters sidles into Tom’s diner with the intent to rob and kill. Before they can blink Tom turns vigilante and wastes the duo professional style.

Tom gets a hearty hero’s response from townsfolk and media alike but the frenzy doesn’t end there. A handful of shady mob types (including Ed Harris as the disfigured Carl Fogarty) start poking around town, pointing fingers at Tom and suggesting a menacing and violent past as organized crime member Joey Cusack.

Denial piles on denial but a chord is struck; is Tom the god-fearing pillar of the community he claims to be or his murky past about to catch up with him?

Cronenberg is the master of the surreal, with an eclectic range (“Spider”, “eXistenZ”, “Dead Ringers”) and malignant bent. “Violence” touches on dusky psychological nerves while maintaining an uncharacteristically easy accessibility that feels tense, stagy and the subtlest shade of manufactured.

Memorable moments pepper this edgy drama, in particular two intense love-making scenes that span the emotional Richter scale from tender intimacy to raw and painful ferocity. The violence is graphic and palpable, perpetually on the edge of imploding.

Viggo infuses mild-mannered Tom with all of the powerful charisma he brought to classic screen legend Aragorn of “Lord of the Rings” fame (sigh).  Bello gives the best performance of her career as a confused wife, mother and lover whose entire marriage may be a sham.

Masterful storytelling from a modern-day master.