Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) would seem to be your average, everyday soul residing in Small Town, USA. With two kids, his lawyer wife Edie (Maria Bello), a house out in the country, and a respectable job running a coffee shop in the heart of quiet Millbrook, Ind., life's good for Tom.
Still, this is a David Cronenberg film, so you just know things aren't quite what they seem. Having helmed dark movies such as the 1986 remake of The Fly and Dead Ringers, Cronenberg has never been one to shy away from a little violence. After all, violence is in this film's title.
But with many of his movies also skewing towards the bizarre, A History of Violence is probably Cronenberg's most conventional and accessible movie yet. Clearly, some of that credit has to go to Josh Olsen's Oscar-nominated screenplay, an adaptation of a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke.
The cast also helps considerably at drawing in the viewer, by carving out memorable performances, some in very limited screen time (Oscar nominee William Hurt dazzles in a true departure from previous roles in his mere 10 minutes on camera).
Mortensen gives a quietly intense, but understated performance as Tom, a man who would seemingly love nothing more than his life to maintain status quo. That hope is swiftly interrupted as a couple of gun toting thugs come riding into town looking for money and target Tom's diner. But when Tom realizes they also intend to do harm to the employees and customers, he takes matters into his own hands and makes quick work of the criminals.
Recognized as a hero, Tom quickly becomes a media darling, bringing a whole lot of attention he could care less about. Shortly thereafter, mobster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris, appropriately creepy) comes to town, convinced that Tom is a very familiar and disliked face from his past.