Review: In A Valley of Violence
REVIEW: IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE is something different for director Ti West. Always reluctant to be pigeonholed in a genre, West followed-up his horror yarns, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE INNKEEPERS, with the more thriller-styled THE SACREMENT. This marks his biggest departure to date, being a Spaghetti-style western that continues an interesting indie revival of the genre, as evidenced by the recent BONE TOMAHAWK and now this.
Ethan Hawke makes for a convincing personification of the classic genre archetype – the deadly loner trying to leave his bad days behind. He’s more like a Franco Nero or Jean-Louis Trintignant in THE GREAT SILENCE than he is Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, in that he’s more tortured than Sergio Leone’s laconic hero ever let on. Now totally on his own, he roams the west with his trusty dog Abbie (Jumpy) at his side, avoiding people as much as his can.
Ah Jumpy… If you’ve read anything about this movie, you are no doubt aware the movie has an amazing canine co-star. Indeed, Jumpy the Dog, who’s already a YouTube star thanks to his amazing tricks (he does parkour and paints!), steals every scene mercilessly. Heck – he even plays a girl dog without much trouble. Give this pooch an Oscar!
As the name suggests though, the Wild West may not be the safest place for a cuddly dog, and to that end IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE shares a lot of similarities with JOHN WICK, although this was apparently already in production before that movie came out. His run-in with the cowardly son (James Ransone- in a particularly hiss-worthy performance) of a tough guy marshal leads to a blood-soaked second half. As the antagonist, John Travolta is surprisingly likable, with his long, Lee Van Cleef style hairdo and affable nature. He doesn’t want to hurt Hawke, but it’s either the mysterious stranger or his awful son. Who does he choose?
West has assembled a really good cast here, with Karen Gillan stealing scenes as Ransone’s high-strung girlfriend, with Taissa Farmiga is her equally high-strung, but more sympathetic younger sister, who likes the stranger and his pooch. It also boasts a memorable, Ennio Morricone-style score by Jeff Grace, and some really well-conceived shoot-outs and deliciously cynical dialogue, making this a fun outing for western buffs.
However, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE has a few shortcomings. For one, West isn’t able to hide his limited budget very well. Using sets that were apparently left over from 3:10 TO YUMA, the town doesn’t look particularly lived-in, giving this an almost theatrical feel. This was supposedly shot on 35MM, but at least on the DCP I saw it didn’t look it, with the movie having a bit of a washed-out, cheap look. The spaghetti western effect would work better if West and company had messed with the colors a bit in post, giving it a more film-like look in line with those classic westerns. This looks too much like TV.
Despite the technical shortcomings, West has still assembled a hell of a cast (ohhh – that dog!!!) and the premise, while highly familiar, works well. It’s a short, fun little western, and I hope more indie auteurs experiment with this, one of the greatest of film genres.