Film Review – In A Valley of Violence
In A Valley of Violence
Silent lone gunman wandering the plains with only his horse and dog as company. An encounter with a drunken priest. Running afoul of the Marshall in a small frontier town. Gunfights and revenge. All of the cliches are present in the new Western In A Valley of Violence.
It looks like Ethan Hawke enjoyed riding around on a horse during The Magnificent Seven remake, decided to stay in costume, and make another movie (I’m guessing). He’s a lone soul who talks more to his dog than to actual humans. He comes across a priest who tries to steal his horse. He turns the tables on the priest who warns him of the sinners living in a nearby town. In need of water and supplies, he rides in attempting to not make any waves. But he gets on the bad side of Gilly (James Ransone), a loudmouth bully, and his gang in a saloon. Gilly threatens to kill his dog unless he fights. Hawke’s character takes him out with one punch in front of the whole town and much to the chagrin of his ridiculously over the top girlfriend played by Karen Gillan. It then turns out that Gilly is the son of the town sheriff, John Travolta trying to bring menace and nuance to a pretty toothless role. So after being run out of town, the gang tracks him down, kills his dog, and leaves him for dead. Anyone who has seen John Wick knows, you don’t kill the hero’s dog. Things won’t turn out well.
This movie is desperately trying to be an homage to Clint Eastwood Man With No Name Spaghetti Westerns but feels like a pale imitation. The opening credits are a meant to evoke Ennio Morricone music with Leone type graphics. But it’s mostly just overwrought and reminds you why those previous filmmakers were masters. Also, the production looks low budget. Granted, a there have been a lot of low budget Westerns that have been masterworks of moral ambiguity. But this looks more like when a cheap TV version of a major movie comes out in the theaters. This would be Carnosaur to Django Unchained’s Jurassic Park.
Ethan Hawke is capable of being in good movies. I’m a defender of the Hawke. He has a tendency at times to take himself and his profession overly seriously which can lead a public persona of douchiness at times. But he also has a significant streak of solid roles on his resume. He’s trying his best to be a haunted loner with demons in his past. But the script is so slight and obvious that it leaves him looking like he’s overacting. Meanwhile, Travolta is adding to his latest string of hamminess in smaller scale projects. Early on, he’s meant to be menacing but isn’t. Later, he’s supposed to be nuanced but isn’t. His sheriff comes off as a too obvious version of Gene Hackman in Unforgiven.
Ti West‘s direction here reminds one of when Pulp Fiction came out and then there was a whole spate of indie copycats making similar films. In this case Django was the big Spaghetti Western homage with a twist. This is the pale imitator. The shot composition is so flat and uninteresting it’s frustrating. Usually at least Westerns like this can come up with some sort of scale and visual splendor. But even though this was shot in widescreen, it looks like a dozen people running around a spare Universal backlot western setup.
In A Valley of Violence is not actively bad. It’s just not especially fun or moving.