A History of Violence (2005)

By Michael Schilf · August 26, 2010

Screenplay Genre: Crime / Thriller / Drama

Movie Time: 96 minutes

Synopsis: Tom Stall, mild-mannered small town diner owner, becomes a local hero when he kills two visious criminals in self-defense, but this attracts national media attention, making Tom an overnight celebrity, and sets off a series of high-stakes consequences that force Tom and his family to face his own history of violence.

Sequence Note: Screenplays in the Crime / Thriller genre often contain an additional Intro Sequence (preceding traditional Sequence One) that begins the movie either with the hero at the end of the last adventure or with the villain(s) committing a crime.

ACT I – Small Town Life


Introduce Antagonist #1: Leland and Billy – two cold-blooded vicious criminals "check out" of a Midwest farmland motel by murdering the motel clerk, housekeeper, and the clerk's young little girl.

World of the Story: When violence meets quiet, rural small town Norman Rockwell America.


Introduce Protagonist: Comforting his daughter after she wakes from a nightmare, we meet Tom Stall – friendly diner owner, devoted husband, and loving father.

Introduce Supporting Characters: Edie, Tom's beautiful attorney wife, and Jack, their teenage son, are also there to comfort the little girl. Clearly, both parents love each other and their children, and Jack is a caring, protective older brother. 

Status Quo: Ideal. We see the Stall family as a positive, loving, supportive unit. And the town of Millbrook is filled with friendly, salt of the earth, small town folks.

Introduce Subplot Obstacle: Gym class. Bobby, the high school bully, tries to start a fight with Jack.

Subplot Obstacle Solution: Jack, not afraid but with no desire for violence, wins this first confrontation with words and wit.

Dramatic Premise: Leland and Billy enter Tom's dinner at closing time.

* Inciting Incident (Plot Point #1): When Tom realizes that Leland and Billy plan to kill everyone in the diner, Tom acts fast, killing both men, getting stabbed in the foot during the shootout.


Protagonist's Objective: Upon returning home from the hospital, Tom wants everything to go back to normal – the old status quo.

Predicament Obstacle: But Tom's heroism has garnered national media attention, and he has become an overnight celebrity. His life is not going to be the same.

Predicament Solution: Ignore the media. Go back to the diner. Move on.

Introduce Antagonist #2: Carl Fogarty – a Philadelphia gangster arrives at the diner with two other mob heavies. He has a nasty facial scar and dead eye.

* The Lock-In (Plot Point #2): Fogarty claims Tom is actually Joey Cusack, who used to run with the Irish Mob back in Philadelphia. Tom fails to convince Fogarty otherwise and is now forced to deal with this mistaken identity.

ACT II – The Fogarty Situation


Establish Second Act Main Tension: Confronted with the Joey Cusack mistaken identity, Tom must prove he has no connection to Fogarty and Philadelphia, and continue to maintain the support of his family and the town of Millbrook.

Raise the Stakes: Sam, the town's Sheriff visits Tom and Edie after pulling over Fogarty and his men. Sam has done his research, informing them that Fogarty is indeed a mob figure from Philadelphia and that there are no records of a Joey Cusack, but there is a Ritchie Cusack, who is the leader of a crime family in Philly.

First 2nd Act Obstacle: Fogarty and his men begin stalking Tom and his family.

Failure/Ramifications: Sitting in his diner alone, Tom sees Fogarty's car driving in the direction of his house. Tom runs/limps home and grabs a shotgun to protect his family. False alarm.


New 2nd Act Obstacle: While Edie is at the mall with her daughter buying shoes, Fogarty makes a verbal threat toward Edie and their family.

Failure/Ramifications: Still convinced Tom is Joey, Fogarty suggests Edie ask Tom about Richie Cusack, who Fogarty says is Tom's/Joey's brother.

Subplot Revival/Obstacle: Bobby continues to bully Jack at school.

Failure/Ramifications: But unable to walk away, Jack bloodies Bobby, putting him in the hospital. Like his father, Jack is also capable of inflicting serious violence.

Higher 2nd Act Obstacle: Fogarty and his men have abducted Jack, and Fogarty agrees to release him if Tom drives back to Philly with them to "see some people."

Failure/Ramifications: Tom nods. They release Jack. But when one of the men tries to escort Tom to the car, Tom grabs his gun, killing him and the other heavy. But before Tom can finish, Fogarty shoots him in the shoulder. Tom is beat. No way out.

* First Culmination (Plot Point #3): Fogarty asks Tom if he has anything to say before he kills him. The Joey within Tom responds: "I should have killed you back in Philly." Fogarty smiles but before he can finish the job, he gets a load of buckshot in the back courtesy of Jack. The Stall's survive, but now they all know that Tom is really Joey.


New Second Act Status Quo: A family ripped apart physically and emotionally. Jack wants nothing to do with his father, and Edie must come to grips with Tom's past.

Higher 2nd Act Obstacle: The hospital admission. Edie confronts Tom; she needs to hear the truth. He admits he was a mob hit man named Joey Cusack, but he left the mob after scarring Fogarty's eye and became a new man: Tom Stall.

Failure/Ramifications: The reality of this truth is so overwhelming that Edie actually vomits. She's horrified; her entire married life has been based on a lie.


Highest 2nd Act Obstacle: Sam the Sheriff comes to the Stall home for the truth, saying that men like Fogarty are secretive and wouldn't come so far out in the open unless they were sure he (Tom/Joey) was the right man.

Obstacle Solution: Despite everything, Edie defends Tom. Sam can do nothing but acquiesce, but he leaves knowing they're hiding something.

* Main Culmination (Plot Point #4): After Sam leaves, Edie turns away from Tom in revulsion, slapping him and shouting: "Fuck you, Joey!" Joey/Tom then proceeds to push her down onto the staircase, and they engage in an intense and violent sex scene, which contrasts an earlier romantic/playful lovemaking scene.

ACT III – Back in Philly


Raising the Stakes: Later that night, Tom is awakened by a phone call from his brother Richie himself, who makes an implied threat when he says, "Are you gonna see me, or do I have to come see you?"

Third Act Tension: Will Tom sort things out with Richie and be able to escape his violent past?

Introduce Antagonist #3: Richie Cusack – the older brother and the boss of a crime family in Philly – is happy to see Tom/Joey upon arrival, but for Richie, business comes before family.

The Last Obstacle: Now in Philly at Richie's mansion, Tom/Joey asks what he needs to do to make things right. Richie calmly replies, "You could die, Joey," and turns around as one of his hit men begins to try to strangle Tom/Joey.

Obligatory Scene: But Tom/Joey defends himself and escapes, killing all of Richie's men, until he meets his older brother face to face.

* Third Act Twist (Plot Point #5): Richie gets locked out of his own house with Joey inside. He lowers his gun to get out his keys to reenter when Joey opens the door and shoots Richie in the head.


Character Arc: Tom/Joey throws the gun in a large pond on the mansion's property. He washes his hands in the water, symbolically cleansing himself and riding Joey and his past for good.

Resolution: Upon returning home, Tom finds his family sitting down for dinner. Nothing is said, but his daughter sets a place for him. He sits.

New Status Quo: Finally, Edie and Tom's eyes meet, filled with tears and grief. It's clear in the way they look at each other that their relationship has changed and they will have to work hard to mend all the emotional scars, but there is hope for them to still have a positive future together.