By virtue of his work in the LOTR trilogy, Viggo Mortensen has clearly made his way into the top tier of Hollywood leading men. The fact that he got the juicy role of Tom Stall in A History of Violence proves it.
HOV is a superb film. I haven't seen anything in the theatre that has caught my interest in the way this movie did in a long time. It is violent, graphically violent in a smoothly choreographed fashion, but this isn't action movie violence. It isn't glorified. At every point you see the dualistic nature of violence, justified or not, and the way even the justified violence leaves you feeling a little sick.
The basic story is about a simple, small-town man who kills men about to commit rape, robbery, and murder in his cafe'. He is so successful in thwarting the attack of these bad men, he attracts attention from the media who view him as a hero and from less savory characters who think he is one of their number from the past. These big-city mob types want to kill Tom Stall as revenge for something they believe he did years ago. They think his name is Joey and that he maimed a made man.
Whether he is the man they are looking for or not, I leave for you to find out.
In any case, the film is very successful in riveting the viewer's interest and stimulating thought. You care about the characters and become invested in the outcome.
Finally, William Hurt had a small, but very important part in the film. He may be on screen for ten minutes, but they all count. He's magnificent in his role. If they give an Oscar for a brief, but powerful appearance, it's his.
Side note: There are two sex scenes in the film between Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello. The scenes are semi-gratuitous. I say semi because they do contribute to the development of the story, but the same could have been done with less graphic scenes. I wouldn't mention it except that the scenes are far from cookie-cutter, so you end up reflecting on them.
Side note 2: Despite the fact that I clearly asked for a ticket to A History of Violence, the cashier gave me a ticket to The 40 Year Old Virgin. Since it was a weeknight and it didn't matter, I didn't ask for a new ticket. After the film, however, I wondered whether the mistake could have been intentional. Think of it, my money went to a film I didn't see. Unethical individuals could arrange something like that with bribes or favors to cashiers. I could be on an imagination trip, but it seems possible.