Silly cowboys and dames.
A mysterious drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog journey toward Mexico through the barren desert of the Old West. For some reason, Paul has seen a lot in his life and just wants to get away from the rest of civilization, so that he doesn’t have to deal with anymore darkness. In a way to make something of a shortcut in their trip, Paul and his dog take a stroll through a little town called Denton, or, as some people like to call, “a valley of violence”. While the town, at one time or another, was a happening hotbed for all sorts of folks, it is now run by a bunch of criminals and dimwits who like to shoot guns and cause violence because, well, why not? One such rebel is Gilly (James Ransone), the trouble-making son of the town’s difficult marshal (John Travolta), who decides to challenge Paul to a battle. He gets his wish and Paul knocks his rear-end on the ground. Gilly doesn’t take kindly to this, so he decides to get back at Paul in one of the worst ways imaginable, forcing Paul to have to react in violently indescribable ways.
It’s nice to see a writer/director like Ti West try something new and branch out a bit. While in the early stages of his career, he was seen as an exciting, new voice in horror who was ready to breathe some life into a dying genre, he has now decided that perhaps making a Western is the way to go for his talents. Why is that? Well, no one really knows, except for probably West himself (hey, it’s all in the name), which is fine, because as long as he continues to make exciting and fun movies like In a Valley of Violence, he can do whatever he wants.
Nobody gets between a man and his dog.
So long as it’s good.
And that’s In a Valley of Violence is: Good. It’s not miraculous, it’s not a game-changer and it sure as hell isn’t perfect – but considering West’s age and experience, it’s a surprise to get something as audacious and well put-together as this. Rather than making a smart-lipped, quick and fast-paced Western, a la Django Unchained, West prefers to go back to the golden old days, where Westerns took time with their stories, allowing for them to play-out in a much more slower, more melodic way.
It works, but at the same time, it sort of doesn’t. It works in that it helps us see the movie in small, little details that make it more than just another shoot-em-up, slam-bang action-thriller without any reason for doing what it does. At the same time, however, the small details don’t really add up to much; it’s still a pretty conventional Western that may want to be something more than what it presents itself to be on the surface, but look closer and well, there’s not much there.
Which isn’t to say that every Western has to break new ground and state something about the human condition, like Unforgiven or Open Range, but it does have to do a little something more than just shoot and kill, if what it really wants to do is focus on the characters. And because a lot of the characters are pulpy, over-the-top cartoon-figures at times, it can’t help but feel like West, despite obvious good intentions, may get a little too wrapped-up in the weirder aspects of his story. While it’s nice and all fine to make jokes at the expense of your characters and at Westerns in general, after awhile, if they get in the way of the story itself, it can get annoying.
Listen to daddy, kid. He knows a thing or two about being a cool-as-hell gunslinger.
Thankfully, West kicks everything into high-gear by the final-act, realizing what he was originally setting out to make and giving us a fun, exciting and very violent Western.
And it’s also great to see him work with such a talented and likable cast, even if some of them are playing despicable people. As our main protagonist, Ethan Hawke does a good enough job being mysterious and cool enough, even if his recent turn in the Magnificent Seven can’t help but overshadow this a bit. Then, as the fast-talking and quick-witted sisters, Karen Gillan and Taissa Farmiga are both fun, showing that their tongues are firmly in their cheeks. And also, John Travolta gives one of his best performances in quite some time as the politely tense sheriff who may have a moral code, but also doesn’t mind blowing people up every once and awhile. It’s a shame we don’t see more of Travolta challenging himself as an actor, because he actually is a very good one when he wants to be, but here, it’s great to see him have some fun.
But really, the stand-out is James Ransone playing, once again, a cowardly, almost sheepish villain who wants to be considered rough, tough and evil, but in reality, is just a softy with daddy issues. Ransone is great at playing these kinds of characters (season 2 of the Wire) that you love to hate, but hate to love. Here, as Gilly, he gets to over-act a whole lot, but still keep himself grounded in some level where he seems like a real person, but never a real threat. It works in the movie’s favor, as well as in Ransone’s, considering that he’s always the butt-end of whatever joke that may come his way.
Consensus: Even if it is a little too slow and could have definitely been tighter, In a Valley of Violence still offers up an impressive change-of-pace for young and improving talent Ti West. Lets hope it continues on.
6.5 / 10
World’s cutest movie dog? Close.
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire