Sky Atlantic: Saturday 14 November, 10.00pm
“There’s no such thing as monsters,” says Viggo Mortensen soothingly to his young daughter. But there are such things as mobsters. And they’re about to come out of the dark and say Boo! Mortensen is mild-mannered Tom Stall, a devoted family man with a loving wife, two good kids, and long-standing ties to the community.
They live in a picture-perfect Midwestern town (Millbrook, Indiana, was recreated in Millbrook, Ontario) where Tom runs the main street diner. When he commits a deadly act of self-defense, it not only makes Tom a local hero. It also triggers a series of ever more brutal persecutions and reprisals. David Cronenberg’s lean, mean and nasty psycho-drama aims too obviously for mythic status, from its carefully composed motel opening to its conclusion, awkwardly modelled on the family tensions and tentativeness of John Ford’s classic western, The Searchers. But, unlike Sam mendes’ silkily cinematic Road to Perdition, A History of Violence never quite manages to belie its graphic novel origins.
The best thing in it is Ed Harris’ organised crime-guy who mooches into Millbrook wearing dark glasses and a funeral director’s suit. He’s got a needling attitude to go with the ugly livid scar on his face. “You’re Joey Cusack,” he tells Tom. “You’re from Philly.” He meets Tom’s firm denials with a menacing little laugh, like he’s clearing his throat. It’s only in these scenes that you can believe Cronenberg’s assertion that his film is supposed to be funny.