In a Valley of Violence
Starring Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, John Travolta, James Ransone, Karen Gillan
By far the most entertaining film I saw at the 2016 SXSW film festival. Horror actor, writer, director Ti West (The Sacrament) delivers his most accessible work to date, a western set in 1890 of all things. It was Hawke’s second feature debut at the festival, and by far the better of the two. What’s notable is that the four time Oscar nominated writer/director is so interchangeable between a dramatic musical biopic and a dark comedic western. Truly one of the most diverse actors in the business. However, the praise for the success of In A Valley of Violence belongs to West who has fashioned a more entertaining genre film than the previous two Quentin Tarantino movies. Clearly inspired by The Hateful Eight directors’ thirst for ironic and often funny violence, West never sacrifices intelligence for blood sport.
Paul (Hawke) is just trying to get to Mexico with his dog companion Abby and friendly horse. In order to do so, he must go through a town called Denton, but known to outsiders as The Valley of Violence. It’s a poor, dried up town with wooden leg Marshal (Travolta) and his violent, spoiled son of a deputy Gilly (Ransone). Paul’s first mistake was stopping by the bar for some water, his refusal at alcohol bothers the locals. Gilly bullies Paul into a street fight that calls much more attention to his simple mission than necessary. “Those men left me with nothing. I’m gonna leave you with less,” he promises after a tragic exchange. Smarter of two sisters Mary Anne (Farmiga) has been waiting for someone like Paul to liberate her and the town, and is eager to help the wandering stranger paint the town red.
Wholesomely entertaining revenge flick that both embraces the moral ingredients of a western, yet infuses the script with clever ideas and concepts.
The bold, red illustrated opening sequence is the first real notion that West seeks to improve on some of Tarantino’s methods. Coincidental or not, Hawke is dressed like Indiana Jones, yet emulates the charm and charisma of Kevin Costner seen in films like Dances with Wolves, Open Road or Wyatt Earp. Yet, this isn’t your grand-daddy’s western, it’s modern sensibilities will appeal to the same Tarantino crowd while wetting the pallet of those thirsty for more westerns. Composer Jeff Grace (Cold in July) really engages the audience with a powerful, thumping score that also feels reminiscent of Tarantino collaborator Ennio Morricone.
The gateway for falling in love with this film is Abby the dog. Paul claims to strangers her only trick is biting, but she steals the show covering her ears, rolling up in a blanket and seemingly responding to Paul’s dialogue. Filmed in or near the same location as Appaloosa (2008), In A Valley of Violence is a wholesomely entertaining revenge flick that both embraces the moral ingredients of a western, yet infuses the script with clever ideas and concepts. There are moments of immense laughter and tragedy, but everything is contained within a straightforward narrative that is realistic for the time period. It’s also Travolta’s best role since The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009).
The best western in years!