A History of Violence with Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello depicts Mortenson as a cafe-owner in a podunk town living an average life (except for the fact that his wife is a smoking-hot lawyer) when, about to be killed by two murderers, he turns into a complete killing machine.
Ed Harris, in his role as villain, shows up after seeing Mortensen on TV, claiming that "Tom" (Mortensen) is "Joey" and that he knows him. Thus the drama is set for Bello and the kids to wonder who is the man they thought was their husband/father while he reacts to the threat of these strangers.
Stop reading now if you are afraid I might give something away. I would.
Anyway, there are some really fascinating moments in this movie. After Mortenson dispatches some bad guys, his son saves his life. He walks toward his son, his face spattered with blood and eerily looks at the kid, rather like a lizard looking at another lizard — expressionless and cold. Then he hugs him. Weird.
The morality play is pretty clear; people can and do change from crazed killers to good, normal people. I don't know how often that is true, but it makes for some interesting drama. And one is left wondering how this plays out in a family that was once normal. I have read reviews that ridicule the movie as being contradictory; the message is that violence is wrong but Mortensons' capacity for violence saves the day. I'm not sure it is so easy to see in this movie. At the end, Mortenson is now an object of suspicion for the police, and his family, while accepting him, is pretty clearly not okay with gangster dad and his past. Violence may have saved their lives but taints the idyllic dream that we saw at the beginning of the movie. It reminded me of Eastwood's moment in Unforgiven, in which he says, to paraphrase, "Killing a man is a hell of thing. You take everything he has. Everything he wanted to be. All his hopes, his dreams, his fears."