A History of Violence

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A History of Violence
File:History of violence.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by Chris Bender
J. C. Spink
Screenplay by Josh Olson
Based on A History of Violence 
by John Wagner
Vince Locke
Starring Viggo Mortensen
Maria Bello
William Hurt
Ashton Holmes
Ed Harris
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Peter Suschitzky
Edited by Ronald Sanders
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • May 16, 2005 (2005-05-16) (Cannes Film Festival)
  • September 23, 2005 (2005-09-23) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $32 million[1]
Box office $60.7 million[1]

A History of Violence is a 2005 American crime thriller film directed by David Cronenberg and written by Josh Olson. It is an adaptation of the 1997 graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner and Vince Locke. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as the owner of a small-town diner who is thrust into the spotlight after confronting two robbers in self-defense, thus changing his life forever.

The film was in the main competition for the 2005 Palme d'Or. The film was put into limited release in the United States on September 23, 2005, and wide release on September 30, 2005.

William Hurt was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Josh Olson was nominated for Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). The Los Angeles Times has called it the last major Hollywood film to be released on VHS.[2] Mortensen himself praised it as "one of the best movies [he's] ever been in, if not the best", also declaring it was a "perfect film noir" or "close to perfect".[3]


Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a restaurant owner in the small town of Millbrook, Indiana, with a loving wife Edie (Maria Bello), teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes), and young daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes). One night two men (Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk) 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.

He is visited by scarred gangster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), who alleges that Tom is actually a gangster named Joey Cusack who had dealings with him in the Irish Mob in Philadelphia some years ago. Tom vehemently denies this, claiming he has never been to Philadelphia, as well as never meeting this man before, but Fogarty remains persistent and begins to stalk the Stall family. Under pressure from Fogarty and his newfound fame, Tom's relationships with his family become strained.

At school, Jack is verbally accosted in a hallway by the bully who has been shown to be riding him since the beginning of the story. Jack is provoked and nearly attacks the bully, but backs down. However, his path is blocked by one of the bully's henchmen. Jack reacts violently, knocking out the henchman and viciously beating the bully.

Following an argument with his father over the use of violence after brutally assaulting a bully at school, Jack runs off. He is caught by Fogarty, 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 the two henchmen with the same precision he used against the robbers, but Fogarty shoots Tom as Tom is drawing a bead on him. As Fogarty is standing over Tom, preparing to kill him, Tom finally admits he is indeed Joey. However, before Fogarty can deliver a coup de grâce, Jack kills Fogarty with a shotgun.

At the hospital, Edie confronts Tom, claiming that while he was attacking Fogarty's men, she saw "the real Joey" that Fogarty 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 happened. He tells Tom and Edie that these mobsters wouldn't go to all this trouble if they weren't sure 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, 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 cumulating in violent sex on the stairs; this in contrast to the tender and romantic sex they were shown having in the beginning of the film. Despite this Edie and Jack continue to further distance themselves from Tom, leaving him isolated.

Tom receives a call from his brother Richie Cusack (William Hurt), 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 surprises and dispatches both.

Tom returns home, where the atmosphere is tense and silent as the family sits around the dinner table. The future of his marriage and his life as Tom Stall is uncertain, but Jack and Sarah indicate their acceptance of their father by setting a plate for him and passing him some food. The film ends as Edie looks up at Tom, leaving their future in question.



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.[4]

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.[5]

A deleted scene, known as "Scene 44", features a dream sequence in the diner, where Fogarty tells Tom he will kill him and his family; 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.[6] In the DVD extra's on-set footage, Mortensen suggests Harris should pull the gun from his chest cavity. Cronenberg, while amused by the idea, rejects it for being too self-referential; he cites a sequence in his film Videodrome, in which a character pulls a handgun from a slit in his stomach.


The film is loosely based on the original graphic novel. Screenwriter Josh Olson intended from the very beginning to use the original story as a springboard to explore the themes that interested him; however these were reportedly not well received. In a 2014 interview, "A History of Violence" star Viggo Mortensen said he 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 the director David Cronenberg, who extensively reworked the script. "He should have actually taken a screenplay credit," Mortensen said, " because that 120-something pages ended up being about 72 pages, and that was him.[7]

In spite of those allegations, Josh Olson was actually the sole screenwriter on the project, and was not rewritten by anyone. [8]

In the final shooting script, the diner scene that sets the story in motion is nearly identical to the graphic novel, and the basic cast of characters remains largely unchanged. The particulars of the plot are very different, especially as the story progresses.

The protagonist's name is changed from Tom McKenna to Tom Stall; John Torrino becomes Carl Fogarty, Tom's son Buzz becomes Jack, his daughter Ellie becomes Sarah, and Sheriff Carney's first name changes from Frank to Sam. The town in which the story takes place is changed from River's Bend, Michigan, to Millbrook, Indiana, and the origin of the mobsters is changed from Brooklyn to Philadelphia. In the film's audio commentary, Cronenberg says that Joey and Richie were Italian in Olson's screenplay, which he changed to the Irish surname Cusack, because he believed Viggo Mortensen and William Hurt would not make convincing Italians, and he wanted to keep the film away from "the Sopranos Syndrome."

Much of the story of the graphic novel is a lengthy flashback detailing Tom's falling out with the mob. While the film is completely sequential and makes a brief and vague allusion to the trouble Tom caused as a mob member, the graphic novel details at length a heist perpetrated by Tom against the mob. Olson opted to focus on Tom's struggles against his past and his relationship with his family, largely to the exclusion of the details of his falling out with his brother and the Mob.

The most profound alterations of the original novel's plot concern the character of Richie and his fate. In the comic book, he and Tom are childhood friends; while in the film they are brothers. In the novel, Richie is captured by mobsters and mutilated after the incident that sends Tom on the lam: Richie's limbs are cut off and his eye taken out, yet he is still kept alive to be suspended from the ceiling in a harness and tortured for years. During the dramatic climax of the graphic novel, Tom comes face to face with Richie, and Tom suffocates him in an act of euthanasia. In the film, Richie is depicted as Tom's brother; he is a mob boss who tries to have Tom killed. However, Tom ultimately overcomes Richie's henchmen, and subsequently kills his brother.

While in the comic, Tom's family is supportive and completely understanding, the film depicts his family struggling with the startling truth about Tom. The lengthy subplot concerning his son Jack turning to violence after his father's example does not exist in the comic, nor does the emotionally charged fight (and subsequent rough sex on the stairs) between Tom and Edie. In the comic, Edie shoots Torrino, and in the film, Jack shoots Fogarty. The comic concludes with Tom violently defeating the mobsters that haunted him, whereas the film ends with Tom's silent return to his family, a change that drastically shifts the tone of the film towards a more familial focus.

The film makes reference to the catalyst that started the story in the comic. In the scene where Tom confronts his son about using excessive force against a bully, Jack retorts, "If I rob Mulligan's pharmacy, are you going to ground me if I don't give you a piece of the action?" In the comic, Richie's older brother Steve was murdered for "mouthin' off" after he robbed a liquor store and a local crime boss sent word that he wanted his cut.


The film's title plays on multiple levels of meaning. Film critic Roger Ebert stated that Cronenberg refers to 3 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."[9]


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 successful limited release on September 23, 2005. The film was released on DVD and VHS formats on March 14, 2006, and was reported as being the very last major Hollywood film to be released on VHS.

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 $8,103,077 in its opening weekend. During its entire theatrical run, the film grossed $31,504,633 in the United States and $60,334,064 worldwide.[1]

Critical reception

The film received widespread acclaim from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes claims 87% of critics have given the film positive reviews (based on 207 reviews).[10] On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 81 out of 100, based on 37 reviews.[11] It was ranked the best film of 2005 in the Village Voice Film Poll.[12] Empire named the film the 448th greatest film of all-time.[13] The French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma ranked the film as 5th place in its list of best films of the decade 2000-2009.[14]

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".[15] 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".[16] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film a "mindblower", and noted Mr. Cronenberg's "refusal to let us indulge in movie violence without paying a price".[17] Roger Ebert also gave the film a very positive review, observing that "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 3 and a half stars (out of 4).[9]

In his list of best films of the decade, Peter Travers named this #4, 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."[18]

BBC film critic Mark Kermode named the film the best of 2005.

Awards and nominations


The film was also nominated for AFI's Top 10 Gangster Films list.[20]


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

No. Title Artist Length
1. "Motel"   Howard Shore 3:11
2. "Tom"   Howard Shore 1:31
3. "Cheerleader"   Howard Shore 1:59
4. "Diner"   Howard Shore 1:51
5. "Hero"   Howard Shore 2:42
6. "Run"   Howard Shore 2:26
7. "Violence"   Howard Shore 3:13
8. "Porch"   Howard Shore 4:17
9. "Alone"   Howard Shore 1:37
10. "The staircase"   Howard Shore 2:44
11. "The Road"   Howard Shore 3:06
12. "Nice Gate"   Howard Shore 3:15
13. "The Return"   Howard Shore 4:39
14. "Ending"   Howard Shore 3:48
Total length:

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "A History of Violence (2005)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 7, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "VHS era is winding down)". L.A. Times. Retrieved October 4, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Marrakech Fest: Viggo Mortensen Honored, Praises David Cronenberg". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Toronto Film Studios begins construction of FILMPORT film/media complex" (Press release). CNW Group. Newswire. September 6, 2006. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. A History of Violence DVD Extra: U.S. vs. European.
  6. A History of Violence DVD Extra: Scene 44.
  7. "The Viggo Mortensen Interview," The Guardian, May 17, 2014
  8. http://www.wga.org/writtenby/writtenbysub.aspx?id=1635
  9. 9.0 9.1 "A History of Violence". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 22, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "A History of Violence – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on February 11, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "History of Violence, A (2005): Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved September 23, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. > take 7 film critics' poll, Village Voice Archived January 28, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire. Retrieved October 9, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Cahiers du cinéma #652, january 2010. http://www.cahiersducinema.com/PALMARES-2000.html
  15. "A History of Violence Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "A History of Violence". Entertainment Weekly. September 28, 2005. Retrieved January 22, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Dargis, Manohla (September 23, 2005). "Movie Review - A History of Violence". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "A History of Violence (2005)". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Festival de Cannes: A History of Violence". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved December 5, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot" (PDF). Retrieved August 18, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>(registration required)
  21. A history of violence Soundtrack TheOST. Retrieved February 1, 2014

External links