Ethan Hawke had a very solid supporting part in 2016’s The Magnificent Seven, playing a mix of the Robert Vaughn and Brad Dexter characters. What better way to follow it up of sorts? How about another western?!? Much smaller scale, cast, budget and fanfare, but it’s still a western! Here’s 2016’s In a Valley of Violence.
Riding south to Mexico with his dog, Abbie, a drifter named Paul (Hawke) is short of supplies and stops in the small town of Denton. Mining interests have dried up and the town is a shell of what it used to be with the Marshal (John Travolta) ruling the town — or what remains of it — with an iron fist. Trying to get in and out of the town without incident, Paul runs into the Marshal’s bully of a son, Gilly (James Ransone), and his three friends. There’s a quick fight, but everything is resolved without too much trouble. Paul rides out of town still heading for Mexico, but Gilly and his gang aren’t done with him yet. Will they push too far though?
This B-movie western received a limited release, including locally at the always reliable Music Box Theatre in Chicago. I didn’t have a chance to see it, catching up with it instead on its DVD/Blu-Ray release. Long story short? Though it has some potential and memorable moments, I’m glad I didn’t put too much effort into tracking it down! Director/screenwriter Ti West has mostly done horror movies to this point, but Hawke, West and others had expressed interest in doing a western. The most frustrating part in reviewing/viewing is that there’s potential here. They’re all clearly fans of the genre, but those individual moments don’t hold together over a 103-minute run-time.
The biggest influence is from the spaghetti western genre. The opening title and end cards are ripped right out of the genre, and the opening credits do an incredibly enjoyable homage to the credits seen in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. Of course, I can’t find them anyplace to link them, but they’re expertly handled. The same for the musical score from composer Jeff Grace that would fit nicely with any number of Eastwood, Van Cleef and Nero-led westerns. The story itself is as straightforward as possible, a straight-up revenge tale (spoilers withheld) of a man with a mysterious past. It’s hard to mess that up, but ‘Valley’ does just that.
Hawke is a solid silent anti-hero with a past. His scenes with his loyal dog are some of the highlights of the movie. The dog — named Jumpy in real-life — is an unexpected scene-stealer throughout. The relationship between man and dog reminded me some of the John Wayne western Hondo, for the right reasons too. Hawke isn’t flashy, just solid. He doesn’t say much, mostly talking to his dog, as he tries to get to Mexico. Why? You’ll have to watch. Here’s a man who just wants to be left alone. Just because he isn’t loud and outgoing about his ability with a gun doesn’t mean he’s not quite capable. A worthwhile western 2-for-2 for Mr. Hawke in Westerns 2016.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else positive in the acting department. Travolta I thought was decent as the underwritten marshal. I would have loved to know a little more about him and what drives him. The biggest issue with the rest of the cast is never a good issue to have. Almost every line delivery sounds overdone, exaggerated and not effective to the point I questioned if we’d gone from western to parody of a western. Characters are screaming at each other, and it’s cringeworthy at times. The lines and their deliveries feel very modern too, not at all how real people would have spoken. Along with Ransone’s Gilly, look for Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan as two sisters with opposite feelings on Paul, Gilly’s gang, Toby Huss (the Wiz from Seinfeld), Tommy Nohilly and Larry Fessenden. Also, a familiar face from Pirates of the Caribbean and AMC’s Turn Burn Gorman plays a down-on-his-luck priest (maybe) with some ulterior motives.
Too much of a mixed bag in the end. Just go for it with all its darkness and revenge, and we’ve got a decent movie. I keep asking though, bad acting or bad script? Either way, it’s enough to seriously dent any enjoyment you’d get out of this.
In a Valley of Violence (2016): **/****