David Cronenberg is best known for his disturbing brand of body horror; gruesome, yet philosophically-minded films such as The Fly or Videodrome in which the human body morphs and melds in peculiar ways, shedding light upon our fragile, malleable condition. Ostensibly a gangster film, his 2005 film A History of Violence takes a different route to similar issues. Viggo Mortensen stars as Tom Stall, a family man who runs a diner in small town America with his loving wife and teenage son. When two men try to rob his business he reacts with stunning instinct, killing both of them and making the news in the process.
The news report dredges up old friends though, and it soon becomes clear that Tom has a past that he’d rather not revisit. Adapting a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, Cronenberg and co-writer Josh Olson pick at the knots of identity and self-determination, examining whether a man can sever himself from his own history and start afresh. If the earlier films looked at the malleability of flesh, A History of Violence looks further inwards, at the tension between brutal, self-imposed mental gymnastics and the sinews of muscle memory. Tense pulp fictions meet rigorous ideas in one of the director’s very best films.