A History of Violence (2005) - New Line Platinum Series

Genre(s): Drama / Mystery / Thriller
New Line || R - 96 minutes - $28.98 || March 14th, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-03-14

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer(s): John Wagner (graphic novel) and Vince Locke (graphic novel), Josh Olson (screenplay)
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill

Theatrical Release Date: September 30th, 2006

Supplemental Material:
  • Director Commentary
  • Deleted Scene w/ Optional Commentary
  • "Acts of Violence" Documentary
  • "Violence's History: United States Version vs. International Version" Featurette
  • The Unmaking of Scene 44 Featurette
  • Too Commercial for Cannes Featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (1.85)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Stereo Surround 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.


Plot Outline (from DVD back cover): Small-town diner owner, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) finds himself a local hero after he successfully takes down two thugs during an attempted robbery. But his sudden celebrity draws unwanted attention from the outside world, including mobsters Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and Richie Cusack (William Hurt) who insist that Tom is intricately tied to their past, Fogarty begins stalking Tom's wife (Maria Bello) and children, resulting in a bloody standoff in which Tom must protect his family from what is either a case of mistaken identity or a violent past that's finally caught up with him.

A History of Violence is a hard-hitting drama-thriller that, on the surface, is a film about redemption (of sorts) and a man protecting his family. Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, History is jarring in its portrayal of violence (it is not glorified, unlike other studio films) and at the same time, satisfyingly dramatic with its characters.

Viggo Mortensen has moved on very well from the Lord of the Rings, giving a performance on two levels, careful not to reveal too much, too early and when things are revealed, they're still surprising (not to say its unpredictable). Interestingly enough, though, I had more interest in the two cameo-like appearances from Ed Harris and William Hurt (in an Oscar nominated role). Both Harris and Hurt are scary as hell playing mobsters straight from the old-time Godfather era (versus New Jersey mob like on "The Sopranos"). Unfortunately, the two were only in the film for maybe 10-minutes each but I could watch an entire film about their characters...

In any case, along with great performances from Mortensen, Harris and Hurt, you have the lovely Maria Bello (Coyote Ugly) stuck in the middle. You feel for her as she, like the audience, is trying to find the truth and in the meantime, that perfect family is slowly falling apart due to the tragic events.

Stylistically, director David Cronenberg (The Fly) doesn't overdue it with the visuals. Instead, he builds tension and mystery that, for a regular watcher, will go unnoticed... but that's when you know there's a master craftsman behind the camera. While Cronenberg won't be mentioned in the same breath as Spielberg, Soderbergh or Nolan (and he's a much better director than Lucas), I hope others give him a chance to break out of the cult status -- though I'd imagine, that's where he prefers to be.

A History of Violence is certainly an underrated film that many in the mainstream did not see; hopefully they'll now give it a chance.


With a solid outing at the box office, taking in $33 million after an $8.1 million opening, New Line and David Cronenberg, who always seems to be a part of some great special editions, gives yet another solid DVD with plenty of extras.

Director Commentary - This is actually the first commentary track from Cronenberg I've ever listened to and after hearing praise from around the web for his tracks, I was looking forward to it. Overall, while it isn't the most lively commentary I've heard, it is informative giving his thoughts on items from the story to camera set-ups. I think it would've been great to add in Viggo Mortensen or even Maria Bello to the mix, but it was a good track.

"Acts of Violence" Documentary - This 65-minute extensive docu-feaurette is split into 8-parts: "Random", "American Hero", "Bully", "Eye for an Eye", "Lies", "Gangster Sex", "Sibling Rivalry" and "Hope". This is by far the best feature on the disc as we get to see the director interact with the cast and crew, the cast working with the director, and cast members working with each other. You see the extent of how much they believe in the script and the lengths they go through to get the scene right. Also, there's some insight into how Cronenberg likes to direct and makes sure the actors have a say. If you're at all interested in this film or going into filmmaking, this is a nice glimpse into that world.

Deleted Scene - This scene, also known as scene 44, is a nightmare sequence where Tom shoots Carl and, with guts hanging out, Carl shoots Tom. As Cronenberg mentions in the optional commentary, the scene seemed to belong in another movie than this one.

The Unmaking of Scene 44 - I have to say this is a first as we get to see the making-of... a deleted scene. It's not overly special in itself, but you get to see some of the tricks used in making the blood and guts coming from Harris' stomach. Got to give 'em props, you don't see this often.

Violence's History: United States Version vs. International Version - Runs a little over a minute as Cronenberg shows the differences between the U.S. version and the one shown in Europe. Even with a top/bottom comparison, I noticed only minor differences and really shows how anally-rententive the MPAA must be if a couple extra drops of blood or a ramped up bone breaking crunch is a big deal...

Too Commercial for Cannes - We follow along with David Cronenberg as A History of Violence goes to the Cannes Film Festival, including endless interviews and the pressure of pleasing the audience. This is actually a good 8-minute featurette giving a look at what filmmakers and the cast go through. On a side note, I wonder where Ed Harris was since William Hurt (who had shorter screen time) was there.

The disc also includes the theatrical trailer. As with almost all New Line releases, with your DVD-ROM you can watch the film with the script (or even print it for reference later).



Picture: A History of Violence, given its content, is naturally darker even during daylight scenes. However, beyond Cronenberg's style, he's more of a director to set up tension than slick camera work. While on the surface it's basic (character coverage, etc), it is effective. The film is presented in 1.85 aspect ratio.

Sound: While not overly effective, the sound is still adequate. Since it's a New Line release, I'm disappointed they didn't include a DTS track (even though the press release actually listed it), but the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fine. Gunshots and a tense-filled score come through the speakers just fine in any case.


A History of Violence is, all in all, a great dramatic thriller filmed by a talented filmmaker who knows how to build up the tension and drama even if moments are cliche in themselves. As for the DVD, despite not having a DTS track, I am more than satisfied with the amount of special features provided. If you like features and are ready for a movie that isn't entirely mainstream, then give A History of Violence a try.