It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
David Cronenberg says his title "A History of Violence" has three levels: It refers (1) to a suspect with a long history of violence; (2) to the historical use of violence as a means of settling disputes, and (3) to 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.
In a small Indiana town, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) runs one of those friendly little diners that acts as the village crossroads and clearing-house. He's the kind of guy everybody likes, married to a lawyer named Edie (Maria Bello), father of the teenager Jack (Ashton Holmes) and young Sarah (Heidi Hayes). He has one of those middle American accents in which every word translates into "I'm just folks."
So persuasive are these Indiana scenes that, despite the movie’s
opening moments, we wonder if Cronenberg has abandoned his own history of violence and decided to make a small-town slice of life: A Capra picture, perhaps, with Viggo Mortensen as Jimmy Stewart. Then all hell breaks loose. Two tough guys enter the diner to try a stickup. They have guns, mean business, threaten the customers and a waitress. Moving so quickly he seems to have been practicing the scene as choreography, Tom Stall takes out the two guys and ends up on the local front pages as a hero.
He makes a shy hero. He doesn't want to give interviews or talk about what he has done, and there are strained moments in his household as his wife worries about a seismic shift in his mood, and his son can't understand an unstated change in their relationship. Read no further if you want to preserve the reasons for these changes.