2005-10-14 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

It’s best to be a bit leery of films that promote “good” gangsters, the king on the list being Marlon Brando as the righteous mob boss Don Corleone in “The Godfather.”

Now, we have “A History of Violence,” Director David Cronenberg’s survival of the fittest neo-Western, where a mild mannered diner owner in Indiana is transformed into a local hero after brutally dispatching two psycho killers out of “In Cold Blood.”

The diner owner is played by Viggo Mortensen as gentle soul Tom Stall who, at first, seems incapable of swatting a fly. He’s also a family man, with a son, Jack (Ashton Holmes), who emulates his father’s passivity when bullies abuse him in school.

One day, the two nasties appear, triggering Tom into action, Superman-style, which brings the amazed media to his door. And it brings three seriously intense mobsters from Philadelphia. Their leader, Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), has a mutilated face and evil eye directed at Tom, whom they are convinced is a former gangland colleague named, Joey. Despite a warning from ineffectual Sheriff Sam Carney (Peter MacNeill), the bad guys don’t go away, even threatening Tom’s lawyer wife, Edie (Maria Bello).

Again, Tom is called into action, with Cronenberg (“The Fly,” “Dead Zone”), unleashing more graphic gore. Without giving away too much plot, it’s safe to say that Tom is not what his wife and kids originally thought he was. What he is, however, is a “good” guy, despite his dubious background... much the way Brando’s Don is, regardless of his mob credentials.

Are there “good” bad guys and “bad” bad guys? Hollywood would have us think so. Maybe, we should ask Guardian Angel Curtis Sliwa? Reportedly, he wasn’t too happy about “reformed” gangster Junior Gotti of Gambino crime family fame being released from prison.

“A History of Violence” is a tough, well-acted thriller, which asks us to accept “The Godfather” premise that “good” gangsters do exist and will be around for a while to weed out the “bad” gangsters.

It’s Darwinian, survival of the fittest. Make sure there’s one in your neighborhood.

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