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RUNNING TIME:  96 MINUTES | RATED R FOR GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, GORE, SEXUAL SITUATIONS, NUDITY.

Adapted by Josh Olson from a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, A History of Violence is more linear and mainstream than most of the films Cronenberg writes (he was hired to direct the movie by New Line Cinema). It is, on one level, essentially a Western, albeit a profoundly subversive one.

The story centers on Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a small-town café owner with a wife (Maria Bello) and teenage son (Ashton Holmes). Tom becomes a celebrity after squaring off with two thugs who attempt to rob his diner. The ensuing media attention brings a visit from a menacing man in black (Ed Harris), who insists on referring to Tom as Joey and claims they have unfinished business to resolve.

The movie, which was nominated for two Oscars (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for William Hurt), is one of the rare features directed by the Canadian filmmaker that is thematically about America.

“That’s one of the things that attracted me to it, because it meant that I would have to come to grips with America’s mythology of itself,” Cronenberg told The Miami Herald in 2005. “It’s kind of a fantasy, because it’s not meant to be a documentary of America today. It’s more about a naïve and innocent past where everyone is good — or has the potential to be good — and how that is resisted. The town is almost like a Twilight Zone town, some spooky small American town that’s almost too perfect.”

 

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