A History of Violence
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Cronenberg
Screenplay byJosh Olson
Based on
A History of Violence
by
Produced byChris Bender
J. C. Spink
Starring
CinematographyPeter Suschitzky
Edited byRonald Sanders
Music byHoward Shore
Production
companies
Distributed by
Release dates
  • May 16, 2005 (2005-05-16) (Cannes)
  • September 23, 2005 (2005-09-23) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes
Countries
  • United States
  • Canada[3]
  • Germany[4]
LanguageEnglish
Budget$32 million[5]
Box office$61.4 million[5]

A History of Violence is a 2005 action thriller film directed by David Cronenberg and written by Josh Olson. It is an adaptation of the 1997 graphic novel of the same title by John Wagner and Vince Locke. The film stars Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt. In the film, a diner owner becomes a local hero after he foils an attempted robbery, but has to face his past enemies to protect his family.

A History of Violence was in the main competition for the 2005 Palme d'Or and was put into a limited release in the United States on September 23, 2005, followed by a wide release on September 30, 2005. It has often been described as one of the greatest films of the 2000s. The film was specifically praised for its performances, screenwriting and atmosphere. William Hurt was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and Olson was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Mortensen himself praised it as "one of the best movies [he's] ever been in, if not the best".[6] It is also notable as being one of the last major Hollywood films to be released on VHS.[7]

Plot

Tom Stall is a diner owner who lives in the fictional small town of Millbrook, Indiana, with a loving wife Edie, teenage son Jack, and daughter Sarah. One night, two spree killers attempt to rob the restaurant. When a waitress is threatened, Tom deftly kills both robbers with surprising skill and precision. He is hailed as a hero by his family and the townspeople, and the incident makes him a local celebrity. Tom is visited by scarred gangster Carl Fogarty, who alleges that Tom is actually a Philadelphia professional hitman named Joey Cusack who had dealings with organized crime in Philadelphia. Tom vehemently denies this, but Carl remains persistent and begins to stalk the Stall family. Under pressure from Carl and his newfound fame, Tom's relationships with his family become strained.

Following an argument with his father over the use of violence on a bully at his school, Jack runs away. He is caught by Carl, who, with Jack as his hostage, goes with his men to the Stall house and demands that "Joey" return to Philadelphia with them. After the gangsters release Jack, Tom is slow to join them in their car, so they attempt to force him to cooperate. Tom kills one of the two henchmen with the same precision he used against the robbers and severely injures the other, but Carl shoots Tom before he can do the same to him. As the gangster stands over Tom, preparing to kill him, Tom finally drops the façade and admits he is indeed Joey. However, before Carl can deliver a coup de grâce, Jack kills him with the family's shotgun.

At the hospital, Edie confronts Tom, claiming that while he was attacking Carl's men, she saw "the real Joey" that the gangster was talking about. Tom shocks Edie by admitting that he is actually Joey Cusack, and that he has killed for both money and pleasure. He tells Edie that he ran away from Philadelphia to escape his violent criminal past. This admission deepens the tensions in their marriage.

After Tom gets out of the hospital, Sam, the local sheriff, pays a visit. Sam expresses confusion about everything that has happened. He tells Tom and Edie that these mobsters would never go to so much trouble unless they were certain that they had the right man. Just when Tom is about to confess, Edie lies to Sam, claiming that Tom is who he says he is, and that their family has suffered enough. At a loss for words after Edie breaks down into tears, Sam leaves. Edie and Tom then start slapping and hitting each other, their fight eventually culminating in violent sex on the stairs. Afterward, Edie and Jack continue to further distance themselves from Tom, leaving him isolated. He receives a call from his brother, crime boss Richie Cusack, who also demands his return to Philadelphia, or else he will come to Indiana to find him. After traveling to meet his brother, Tom learns that the other mobsters whom he had offended in Philadelphia took out their frustrations on Richie, penalizing him financially and delaying his advancement in the organization. Tom offers to make peace, but Richie orders his men to kill his brother. Tom manages to kill most of the guards and escape. As Richie and his last henchman are hunting for him, Tom kills the henchman, takes his gun, and confronts Richie outside; stunned, Richie says "Jesus, Joey" before Tom kills him with a single gunshot to the head, responding "Jesus, Richie".

Tom returns home, where the atmosphere is tense and silent as the family sits around the dinner table. His young daughter eventually hands him a dinner plate. Some moments later, his son offers him a communal plate of food and Edie looks at Tom with tears in her eyes.

Cast

Production

The film is loosely based on the original graphic novel. Screenwriter Josh Olson intended from the beginning to use the original story as a springboard to explore the themes that interested him.

Mortensen read Olson's original version of the script and "was quite disappointed. It was 120-odd pages of just mayhem; kind of senseless, really." He only agreed to do the movie after meeting with Cronenberg, who (according to Mortensen) reworked the script.[8]

Most of the film was shot in Millbrook, Ontario. The shopping centre scene was shot in Tottenham, Ontario, and the climactic scene was shot at the historic Eaton Hall Mansion, located in King City, Ontario.[9] Harrison Ford turned down the role of Tom Stall.[10] Cronenberg stated that "I think it took three weeks to edit".[11]

Alternate versions

The U.S. and European versions differ on only two fight scenes - one where Tom breaks the nose of one of Fogarty's thugs and one where he stomps on the throat of one of Richie Cusack's thugs. Both scenes display more blood flowing or gushing out of the victims in the European version. In addition, a more pronounced bone-crushing sound effect is used when Tom stomps on the thug's throat.[12]

A deleted scene, known as "Scene 44", features a dream sequence in the diner, where Fogarty tells Tom he will kill his family and him, to which Tom responds by shooting him with his shotgun at close range. He then approaches Fogarty's mangled body, which raises a gun and shoots him. In behind the scenes footage, Cronenberg expressed apprehension about the scene's similarity to his previous work. He even suggested a desire to have Fogarty retrieve the gun from his chest cavity had the action not been too similar to a scene from Videodrome. [13]

Interpretation

The film's title plays on multiple levels of meaning. Film critic Roger Ebert stated that Cronenberg refers to three possibilities:

... (1) a suspect with a long history of violence; (2) the historical use of violence as a means of settling disputes, and (3) the innate violence of Darwinian evolution, in which better-adapted organisms replace those less able to cope. "I am a complete Darwinian", says Cronenberg, whose new film is in many ways about the survival of the fittest—at all costs.[14]

Cronenberg himself described the film as a meditation on the human body and its relationship to violence:

For me the first fact of human existence is the human body. I'm not an atheist, but for me to turn away from any aspect of the human body to me is a philosophical betrayal. And there's a lot of art and religion whose whole purpose is to turn away from the human body. I feel in my art that my mandate is to not do that. So whether it's beautiful things—the sexuality part, or the violent part or the gooey part—it's just body fluids. It's when Elliott in Dead Ringer (sic) says, "Why are there no beauty contests for the insides of bodies?" It's a thought that disturbs me. How can we be disgusted by our own bodies? That really doesn't make any human sense. It makes some animal sense but it doesn't make human sense so I'm always discussing that in my movies and in this movie in particular. I don't ever feel that I've been exploitive in a crude, vulgar way, or just doing it to get attention. It's always got a purpose which I can be very articulate about. In this movie, we've got an audience that's definitely going to applaud these acts of violence and they do because it's set up that these acts are justifiable and almost heroic at times. But I'm saying, "Okay, if you can applaud that, can you applaud this?" because this is the result of that gunshot in the head. It's not nice. And even if the violence is justifiable, the consequences of the violence are exactly the same. The body does not know what was the morality of that act. So I'm asking the audience to see if they can contain the whole experience of this violent act instead of just the heroic/dramatic one. I'm saying "Here's the really nasty effects on these nasty guys but still, the effects are very nasty." And that's the paradox and conundrum."[15]

Music

The soundtrack to A History of Violence was released on October 11, 2005.

Release

Theatrical

A History of Violence premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2005 and was released in the United States on September 30 following a limited release on September 23, 2005.

Home media

The film was released on DVD and VHS formats on March 14, 2006,[16] and was reported by the Los Angeles Times as being the last major Hollywood film to be released on VHS.[7]

Reception

Box office

The film started with a limited release in 14 theaters and grossed $515,992 at the box office, averaging $36,856 per theater. A week later, it went on a wide release in 1,340 theaters and grossed $8.1 million over the weekend. During its entire theatrical run, the film grossed $31.5 million in the United States and a total of $61.4 million worldwide.[5]

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of 216 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7.90/10. The website's consensus reads: "A History of Violence raises compelling and thoughtful questions about the nature of violence, while representing a return to form for director David Cronenberg in one of his more uncharacteristic pieces."[17] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 82 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[18] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[19]

Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers gave the film four stars, highlighting its "explosive power and subversive wit", and lauded David Cronenberg as a "world-class director, at the top of his startlingly creative form".[20] Entertainment Weekly reviewer Lisa Schwarzbaum gave the film an A, concluding that "David Cronenberg's brilliant movie" was "without a doubt one of the very best of the year".[21]

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film a "mindblower", and noted Cronenberg's "refusal to let us indulge in movie violence without paying a price".[22] Roger Ebert also gave the film a positive review, observing, "A History of Violence seems deceptively straightforward, coming from a director with Cronenberg's quirky complexity, but think again. This is not a movie about plot, but about character." He gave it three and a half out of four stars.[14]

It was ranked the best film of 2005 in the Village Voice Film Poll.[23]

In December 2005, it was named to the Toronto International Film Festival's annual Canada's top-ten list of the year's best Canadian films.[24]

BBC film critic Mark Kermode named the film the best of 2005.[citation needed]

Retrospective lists

Empire named the film the 448th-greatest film of all time.[25]

The French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma ranked the film as fifth place in its list of best films of the decade, 2000–2009.[26]

In his list of best films of the decade, Peter Travers named this number four, praising director David Cronenberg:

Is Canadian director David Cronenberg the most unsung maverick artist in movies? Bet on it ... Cronenberg knows violence is wired into our DNA. His film showed how we secretly crave what we publicly condemn. This is potent poison for a thriller, and unadulterated, unforgettable Cronenberg.[27]

In 2016, the film was ranked among the 100 greatest films since 2000 in an international critics' poll by 177 critics around the world.[28]

Accolades

Accolades for A History of Violence
Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[29] Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Josh Olson Nominated
American Film Institute Awards[30] Top 10 Movie of the Year Won
Austin Film Critics Association Awards[31] Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Won
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Director David Cronenberg Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Maria Bello Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Josh Olson Runner-up
Best Cinematography Peter Suschitzky Nominated
Best Original Score Howard Shore Nominated
Belgian Film Critics Association Awards[32] Grand Prix David Cronenberg Nominated
Bodil Awards[33] Best American Film Won
British Academy Film Awards[34] Best Adapted Screenplay Josh Olson Nominated
Cahiers du Cinéma (2005) Top 10 Film David Cronenberg 2nd Place
Cahiers du Cinéma (2010) Best Film of the 2000s 5th Place
Cannes Film Festival[35] Palme d'Or Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards[36] Best Film 2nd Place
Best Director David Cronenberg Won
Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Won
César Awards[37] Best Foreign Film David Cronenberg Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[38] Best Film Nominated
Best Director David Cronenberg Won
Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Won
Best Screenplay Josh Olson Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards[39] Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture 8th Place
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film David Cronenberg Nominated
Directors Guild of Canada Awards[40] Outstanding Feature Film Won
Outstanding Direction – Feature Film David Cronenberg Won
Outstanding Picture Editing – Feature Film Ronald Sanders Won
Outstanding Production Design – Feature Film Carol Spier Nominated
Outstanding Sound Editing – Feature Film Alastair Gray and Michael O'Farrell Won
Edgar Allan Poe Awards[41] Best Motion Picture Screenplay Josh Olson (screenplay);
John Wagner and Vince Locke (graphic novel)
Nominated
Empire Awards Best Thriller Nominated
Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Awards Best Foreign Film David Cronenberg Won
Gold Derby Film Awards[42] Best Motion Picture Chris Bender, David Cronenberg and J.C. Spink Nominated
Best Director David Cronenberg Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Josh Olson Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[43] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Maria Bello Nominated
Golden Schmoes Awards[44] Best Supporting Actress of the Year Won
Gotham Independent Film Awards[45] Best Feature David Cronenberg, Chris Bender and J.C. Spink Nominated
Hollywood Legacy Awards Writer of the Year Josh Olson Won
International Cinephile Society Awards[46] Top 10 Films of the Year 3rd Place
Best Director David Cronenberg Won
Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Runner-up
Best Adapted Screenplay Josh Olson Runner-up
International Film Music Critics Association Awards[47] Best Original Score for a Horror/Thriller Film Howard Shore Won
International Online Cinema Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Director David Cronenberg Nominated
Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Josh Olson Nominated
Italian Online Movie Awards Best Director David Cronenberg Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards[48] Best Supporting Actress Won
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards[49] Best Picture 5th Place
London Film Critics Circle Awards[50] Film of the Year Nominated
Director of the Year David Cronenberg Nominated
Actor of the Year Viggo Mortensen Nominated
Actress of the Year Maria Bello Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[51] Best Film Runner-up
Best Director David Cronenberg Runner-up
Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Won
National Board of Review Awards[52] Top Ten Films 5th Place
National Society of Film Critics Awards[53] Best Film 2nd Place
Best Director David Cronenberg Won
Best Supporting Actor Ed Harris Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[54] Best Film Runner-up
Best Director David Cronenberg Runner-up
Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Runner-up
Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Won
Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Won
North Texas Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards[55] Best Picture Chris Bender, David Cronenberg and J.C. Spink Nominated
Best Director David Cronenberg Nominated
Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Josh Olson Nominated
Best Film Editing Ronald Sanders Nominated
Best Casting Mark Bennett and Deirdre Brown Nominated
Best Cinematic Moment Stair Scene Nominated
Best Official Film Website Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards[56] Best Picture Won
Best Director David Cronenberg Won
Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Maria Bello Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Josh Olson Nominated
Best Editing Ronald Sanders Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Editing Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Film David Cronenberg Won
Satellite Awards (2005)[57] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Viggo Mortensen Nominated
Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Maria Bello Nominated
Satellite Awards (2006)[58] Outstanding Overall DVD Nominated
Saturn Awards[59] Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film Nominated
Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Nominated
Scream Awards Best Director David Cronenberg Nominated
Most Heroic Performance Viggo Mortensen Nominated
The "Holy Sh!t"/"Jump-From-Your-Seat" Award The diner shootout Nominated
SESC Film Festival Best Foreign Film (Audience Award) David Cronenberg Won
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[60] Best Picture 5th Place
St. Louis Film Critics Association Awards Best Director David Cronenberg Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards[61] Best Film Won
Best Canadian Film Won
Best Director David Cronenberg Won
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 3rd Place
USC Scripter Awards[62] Josh Olson (screenwriter);
John Wagner and Vince Locke (authors)
Nominated
Utah Film Critics Association Awards[63] Best Actress Maria Bello Runner-up
Best Supporting Actor William Hurt Nominated
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards[64] Best Director David Cronenberg Nominated
Village Voice Film Poll Best Film Won
Best Director David Cronenberg Won
Best Lead Performance Viggo Mortensen 7th Place
Best Supporting Performance Maria Bello Won
Ed Harris 8th Place
Wiiliam Hurt 5th Place
Best Screenplay Josh Olson 3rd Place
Writers Guild of America Awards[65] Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
Young Artist Awards[66] Best Performance in a Feature Film – Young Actress Age Ten or Younger Heidi Hayes Nominated

Adaptation

Leo, a 2023 Indian Tamil language film co-written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, is an adaptation of A History of Violence.[67]

References

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Works cited