A History of Violence is one of those pieces of cinema that, for some reason, had always eluded me.

Despite it having been recommended to me countless times, I’d never actually sat down to watch it before, and had very little idea of what to expect – other than Viggo Mortensen being a badass, at least.

Mortensen, for me, is one of those rare actors that I’ve never been disappointed in. He’s got a tremendous range, but his biggest asset is his commanding presence and the waves of charisma that he’s able to pour into everything he appears in, so I was pretty excited of the prospect of finally sitting down to watch A History of Violence.

Mortensen stars as Tom Stall, the mild-mannered owner of a small-town diner, who is thrust into the limelight after he confronts and kills two men who try to rob him.

A History of Violence has a relatively small cast of characters, but that only serves to make everything feel so much more personal. As the events of the film take their toll on the Stall family, there’s a sense of both intimacy and alienation that organically develops, helped along by emotionally driven performances from the film’s stars.

As the name promises, there’s more than a little violence, although not in the traditional action movie sense. In fact, A History of Violence takes a more realistic, visceral approach to its action, with shootouts spanning little more than a few brutal, bloody seconds.

Director David Cronenberg might be best known for his work pioneering the body horror genre, but here he demonstrates exactly how to build tension through implication and anticipation, with only the briefest flashes of gore highlighting how fragile and fleeting life can be.

A History of Violence is a film that pulls no punches, nor does it need to. It’s a gripping tale of Darwinian principle – survival of the fittest – and that’s something that is reinforced by almost every single action that Stall makes.

Rating: 90%

Summary: No bells, no whistles, just great storytelling brought to life by outstanding performances. A History of Violence is an absolute must-see, bucket list piece of film.