A History of Violence

A History of Violence is a 2005 American action-thriller film directed by David Cronenberg and written by Josh Olson. It is an adaptation of the 1997 graphic novel of the same title by John Wagner and Vince Locke. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as the owner of a small-town diner who is thrust into the spotlight after confronting two robbers in self-defense, thus changing his life forever.

A History of Violence
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Cronenberg
Produced byChris Bender
J. C. Spink
Screenplay byJosh Olson
Based on
StarringViggo Mortensen
Maria Bello
William Hurt
Ed Harris
Music byHoward Shore
CinematographyPeter Suschitzky
Edited byRonald Sanders
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • May 16, 2005 (2005-05-16) (Cannes Film Festival)
  • September 23, 2005 (2005-09-23) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$32 million[1]
Box office$61.4 million[1]

The film was in the main competition for the 2005 Palme d'Or. The film was put into limited release in the United States on September 23, 2005, and wide release on September 30, 2005.

A History of Violence was praised for its performances and its screenplay, atmosphere, and plot; William Hurt was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Olson was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Los Angeles Times has called it the last major Hollywood film to be released on VHS.[2] Mortensen himself praised it as "one of the best movies [he's] ever been in, if not the best", also declaring it was a "perfect film noir" or "close to perfect".[3]


Tom Stall is a diner owner who lives in the small (fictional) town of Millbrook, Indiana, with a loving wife Edie, teenage son Jack, and daughter Sarah. One night, two spree killers attempt to rob the restaurant. When a waitress is threatened, Tom deftly kills both robbers with surprising skill and precision. He is hailed as a hero by his family and the townspeople, and the incident makes him a local celebrity. Tom is visited by scarred gangster Carl Fogarty, who alleges that Tom is actually a Philadelphia professional hitman named Joey Cusack who had dealings with him in the Irish Mob in Philadelphia. Tom vehemently denies this, but Carl remains persistent and begins to stalk the Stall family. Under pressure from Carl and his newfound fame, Tom's relationships with his family become strained.

Following an argument with his father over the use of violence on a bully at his school, Jack runs away. He is caught by Carl, who, with Jack as his hostage, goes with his men to the Stall house and demands that "Joey" return to Philadelphia with them. After the gangsters release Jack, Tom is slow to join them in their car, so they attempt to force him to cooperate. Tom kills the two henchmen with the same precision he used against the robbers, but Carl shoots Tom before he can do the same to him. As the gangster stands over Tom, preparing to kill him, Tom finally drops the façade and admits he is indeed Joey. However, before Carl can deliver a coup de grâce, Jack kills him with a shotgun.

At the hospital, Edie confronts Tom, claiming that while he was attacking Carl's men, she saw "the real Joey" that the gangster was talking about. Tom shocks Edie by admitting that he is actually Joey Cusack, and that he has killed for both money and pleasure. He tells Edie that he ran away from Philadelphia to escape his violent criminal past. This admission deepens the tensions in their marriage.

After Tom gets out of the hospital, Sam, the local sheriff, pays a visit. Sam expresses confusion about everything that has happened. He tells Tom and Edie that these mobsters would never go to so much trouble unless they were certain that they had the right man. Just when Tom is about to confess, Edie lies to Sam, claiming that Tom is who he says he is, and that their family has suffered enough. At a loss for words after Edie breaks down into tears, Sam leaves. Edie and Tom then start slapping and hitting each other, their fight eventually culminating in violent sex on the stairs. Afterward, Edie and Jack continue to further distance themselves from Tom, leaving him isolated. He receives a call from his brother Richie Cusack, who also demands his return to Philadelphia, or else he will come to Indiana to find him. After traveling to meet his brother, Tom learns that the other mobsters whom he had offended in Philadelphia took out their frustrations on Richie, penalizing him financially and delaying his advancement in the organization. Tom offers to make peace, but Richie orders his men to kill his brother. Tom manages to kill most of the guards and escape. As Richie and his last henchman are hunting for him, Tom kills the henchman, takes his gun, and confronts Richie outside; stunned, Richie says "Jesus, Joey" before Tom kills him with a single gunshot to the head, responding "Jesus, Richie".

Tom returns home, where the atmosphere is tense and silent as the family sits around the dinner table. His young daughter eventually hands him a dinner plate. Some moments later, his son offers him a communal plate of food.



Most of the film was shot in Millbrook, Ontario. The shopping centre scene was shot in Tottenham, Ontario, and the climactic scene was shot at the historic Eaton Hall Mansion, located in King City, Ontario.[4]

Alternate versions

The U.S. and European versions differ on only two fight scenes: one where Tom breaks the nose of one of Fogarty's thugs and one where he stomps on the throat of one of Richie Cusack's thugs. Both scenes display more blood flowing or gushing out of the victims in the European version. In addition, a more pronounced bone-crushing sound effect is used when Tom stomps on the thug's throat.[5]

A deleted scene, known as "Scene 44", features a dream sequence in the diner, where Fogarty tells Tom he will kill him and his family; to which Tom responds by shooting him with his shotgun at close range. He then approaches Fogarty's mangled body, which raises a gun and shoots him.[6] In the DVD extras' on-set footage, Mortensen suggests Harris should pull the gun from his chest cavity. Cronenberg, while amused by the idea, rejects it for being too self-referential; he cites a sequence in his film Videodrome, in which a character pulls a handgun from a slit in his stomach.


The film's title plays on multiple levels of meaning. Film critic Roger Ebert stated that Cronenberg refers to 3 possibilities:

... (1) a suspect with a long history of violence; (2) the historical use of violence as a means of settling disputes, and (3) the innate violence of Darwinian evolution, in which better-adapted organisms replace those less able to cope. "I am a complete Darwinian", says Cronenberg, whose new film is in many ways about the survival of the fittest—at all costs.[7]

Cronenberg himself described the film as a meditation on the human body and its relationship to violence:

For me the first fact of human existence is the human body. I’m not an atheist, but for me to turn away from any aspect of the human body to me is a philosophical betrayal. And there’s a lot of art and religion whose whole purpose is to turn away from the human body. I feel in my art that my mandate is to not do that. So whether it’s beautiful things—the sexuality part, or the violent part or the gooey part—it’s just body fluids. It’s when Elliott in Dead Ringer (sic) says, “Why are there no beauty contests for the insides of bodies?” It’s a thought that disturbs me. How can we be disgusted by our own bodies? That really doesn’t make any human sense. It makes some animal sense but it doesn’t make human sense so I’m always discussing that in my movies and in this movie in particular. I don’t ever feel that I’ve been exploitive in a crude, vulgar way, or just doing it to get attention. It’s always got a purpose which I can be very articulate about. In this movie, we’ve got an audience that’s definitely going to applaud these acts of violence and they do because it’s set up that these acts are justifiable and almost heroic at times. But I’m saying, “Okay, if you can applaud that, can you applaud this?” because this is the result of that gunshot in the head. It’s not nice. And even if the violence is justifiable, the consequences of the violence are exactly the same. The body does not know what was the morality of that act. So I’m asking the audience to see if they can contain the whole experience of this violent act instead of just the heroic/dramatic one. I’m saying “Here’s the really nasty effects on these nasty guys but still, the effects are very nasty.” And that’s the paradox and conundrum."[8]


A History of Violence premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2005, and was released in the United States on September 30 following a successful limited release on September 23, 2005.

Home media

The film was released on DVD and VHS formats on March 14, 2006,[9] and was reported by the Los Angeles Times as being the last major Hollywood film to be released on VHS.


Box office

The film started with a limited release in 14 theaters and grossed $515,992 at the box office, averaging $36,856 per theater. A week later, it went on a wide release in 1,340 theaters and grossed $8,103,077 in its opening weekend. During its entire theatrical run, the film grossed $31,504,633 in the United States and $60,334,064 worldwide.[1]

Critical response

The film received widespread acclaim from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 87% based on 216 critics' reviews, with an average rating of 7.87/10. The website's consensus reads, "A History of Violence raises compelling and thoughtful questions about the nature of violence, while representing a return to form for director David Cronenberg in one of his more uncharacteristic pieces."[10] On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 81 out of 100, based on 37 reviews.[11] It was ranked the best film of 2005 in the Village Voice Film Poll.[12] Empire named the film the 448th-greatest film of all time.[13] The French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma ranked the film as 5th place in its list of best films of the decade 2000–2009.[14]

Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers gave the film four stars, highlighting its "explosive power and subversive wit", and lauded David Cronenberg as a "world-class director, at the top of his startlingly creative form".[15] Entertainment Weekly reviewer Lisa Schwarzbaum gave the film an A, concluding that "David Cronenberg's brilliant movie" was "without a doubt one of the very best of the year".[16] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film a "mindblower", and noted Cronenberg's "refusal to let us indulge in movie violence without paying a price".[17] Roger Ebert also gave the film a very positive review, observing that "A History of Violence seems deceptively straightforward, coming from a director with Cronenberg's quirky complexity. But think again. This is not a movie about plot, but about character." He gave it 3 and a half stars (out of 4).[7]

In December 2005, it was named to the Toronto International Film Festival's annual Canada's Top Ten list of the year's best Canadian films.[18]

In his list of best films of the decade, Peter Travers named this No.4, praising director David Cronenberg:

Is Canadian director David Cronenberg the most unsung maverick artist in movies? Bet on it ... Cronenberg knows violence is wired into our DNA. His film showed how we secretly crave what we publicly condemn. This is potent poison for a thriller, and unadulterated, unforgettable Cronenberg.[19]

BBC film critic Mark Kermode named the film the best of 2005.

In 2016, the film was ranked among the 100 greatest films since 2000 in an international critics poll by 177 critics around the world.[20]

Awards and honors




The soundtrack to A History of Violence was released on October 11, 2005.

1."Motel"Howard Shore3:11
2."Tom"Howard Shore1:31
3."Cheerleader"Howard Shore1:59
4."Diner"Howard Shore1:51
5."Hero"Howard Shore2:42
6."Run"Howard Shore2:26
7."Violence"Howard Shore3:13
8."Porch"Howard Shore4:17
9."Alone"Howard Shore1:37
10."The staircase"Howard Shore2:44
11."The Road"Howard Shore3:06
12."Nice Gate"Howard Shore3:15
13."The Return"Howard Shore4:39
14."Ending"Howard Shore3:48
Total length:40:19[22]


  1. "A History of Violence (2005)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
  2. "VHS era is winding down". L.A. Times. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  3. "Marrakech Fest: Viggo Mortensen Honored, Praises David Cronenberg". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  4. "Toronto Film Studios begins construction of FILMPORT film/media complex" (Press release). CNW Group. Newswire. September 6, 2006. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007.
  5. A History of Violence DVD Extra: U.S. vs. European.
  6. A History of Violence DVD Extra: Scene 44.
  7. "A History of Violence". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 22, 2010.
  8. {{Cite web|url=https://cinephiliabeyond.org/a-history-of-violence/
  9. Fienberg, Daniel (March 14, 2006). "A History of Violence". Morning Call. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  10. "A History of Violence – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on February 11, 2009. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  11. "History of Violence, A (2005): Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  12. > take 7 film critics' poll, Village Voice Archived January 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  13. "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  14. "PALMARES 2000" [AWARDS 2000]. Cahiers du Cinéma. Archived from the original on November 4, 2013. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  15. "A History of Violence Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
  16. "A History of Violence". Entertainment Weekly. September 28, 2005. Retrieved January 22, 2010.
  17. Dargis, Manohla (September 23, 2005). "Movie Review - A History of Violence". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2010.
  18. "Topping the list: Canada's cinematic achievements". National Post, December 14, 2005.
  19. "A History of Violence (2005)". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
  20. "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". BBC. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  21. "Festival de Cannes: A History of Violence". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved December 5, 2009.
  22. A history of violence Soundtrack TheOST. Retrieved February 1, 2014
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