Film traces complications stemming from a gunshot
The gripping drama is really about secrets.
By MOIRA MACDONALD
Tom Spall (Viggo Mortensen) is a laid-back fellow, living a quiet life in the kind of small Midwestern town where people end conversations with "See you at church."
He owns the local diner and chats up the regulars in a low-key way; pouring the coffee and keeping the place tidy. When a pair of on-the-run criminals enter the diner, bent on killing whoever gets in their way, Tom's response is slow, even lackadaisical -- as if there's really no need to do anything, since what's happening can't be real. And then, quicker than a blink, he shoots and kills them.
Early on in David Cronenberg's gripping drama "A History of Violence," the invasion of violence into everyday life becomes the norm. The movie's running time is continually punctuated by orgies of gunfire; you become desensitized to it, and intentionally so.
Despite the blood, the film follows Cronenberg's marvelous "Spider" in finding its true horror in the dark corners of the mind. Tom's life is changed by the incident, on many levels. His son (Ashton Holmes), who's been facing his own demons with a bully at school, wonders how this changes the message of tolerance his father has always given him.
His wife, Edie (Maria Bello), eyes her husband differently; first as a hero, then with an increased fear of something else. And a strange newcomer (Ed Harris, biting into a bad-guy role with gusto), with a cloudy eye and a menacing manner, shows up in town, convinced that he has a score to settle with Tom.
It's made with intelligence and a genuine sense of dread; this is an artful movie hiding in action/thriller clothing.