Originally a graphic novel published by DC Comics last year, A History of Violence offers complex but uninspiring drama. Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings) stars as Tom Stall, a quiet family man and owner of a small-town diner. When two vicious punks roll into Stall's restaurant waiving their firearms in the air, Tom reacts instinctively by dispatching the visitors with deadly force.

Though Tom is labeled a hero by the national media, the fabrications he has told his wife and son about his mysterious former life begin to unravel. Soon, a disfigured mobster from Philly (Ed Harris) arrives to harass the Stall family, Tom's scrawny son uses violence to resolve schoolyard flaps, and the town sheriff starts asking Tom about where he learned to kill so brutally.

Yet for all that the film finally reveals Tom Stall is capable of doing -- as a father, a husband and a man trying to escape his past -- director David Cronenberg (Scanners, The Fly) remains cryptic and ambivalent about who Tom really is. The result is a film that feels unfinished and unsatisfying, a dreary filmic endeavor with neither the depth nor the viscera to please even die-hard Cronenberg fans. (Needless to say, graphic novel enthusiasts should wait for the next Sin City installment.) As a rule, good films need not generate answers to all the questions they pose, but A History of Violence disappoints because it poses its questions in the gloomiest way imaginable.


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