A History of Violence
Time Out says
There's no "new flesh" or creepy-crawlies in David Cronenberg's latest film, but there is something just as disturbing lurking in its characters' bloodstreams: the impetus to inflict pain. And as in many of the director's previous outings, it takes outside agents—in this case, two killers on the road—to expose what's been boiling beneath the surface all along. When this amoral duo breezes into nondescript Smalltown, USA, they (and we) are surprised to see everyman Tom Stall (Mortensen) display a psychotic fury when they attempt to rob his diner.
Up to that point in the movie, Cronenberg has merely been playing around with shady pulp noirs and lone-gunmen Westerns. But once Tom crosses the line, the aggressiveness begins to spread virally to his wife (Bello) and his picked-upon son. The incident also brings a scarred gangster (Harris) into the picture, who seems to think Tom is someone he knows. What follows is the most remarkable critique of violent masculinity since Unforgiven. Cronenberg delivers the traditional action-film goods but also brings the pain, depicting the aftermath of the story's short, sharp shocks in such a grisly visceral manner that it rubs viewers' faces in their own voyeuristic impulses. Both a meat-and-potatoes thriller and a dismantling of the same, Cronenberg's revisionist look at the beast within is his most deconstructively devastating opus to date. It's also, undeniably, a masterpiece.—David Fear