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New Release Review (DVD) - IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE

A cavalry deserter runs into trouble in a small town.






Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ti West

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan, John Travolta



John Carpenter has famously lamented never getting to direct a western (though he did write a couple for TV - El Diablo and Blood River - and a case could be made for Assault on Precinct 13 as a contemporary western). Similarly associated with the horror genre, director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) has now achieved what Carpenter couldn't manage, stepping out of the horror shadows and into the dusty terrain of the western for In a Valley of Violence (every time I write that title Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida begins playing in my head).


Workaholic actor Ethan Hawke is Paul, a former cavalry soldier who recently deserted both the army and his wife and daughter. Along with his dog Abbie (played by Jumpy in what might be the most charming canine performance we'll see this year), Paul is headed for a new life in Mexico, where he imagines he'll find solitude, as "nobody speaks English in Mexico."

While stopping off in the town of Denton, he runs into trouble with the sheriff's son and town troublemaker Gilly (James Ransone, star of last year's snowy western The Timber) and humiliates the loudmouth by giving him a public ass-whuppin'. When Gilly responds with violence, Paul is forced to return to his gun-slinging ways, re-entering Denton with vengeance on his mind.


The stylish opening credits, accompanied by a rousing score by Jeff Grace, tell us West is a fan of the western, and his movie certainly ticks most of the b-western boxes - a quiet protagonist, an arrogant villain, a love interest young enough to be the hero's daughter (Taissa Farmiga), and a corrupt Sheriff (John Travolta). A decade ago this might have been enough to satisfy viewers hungry for a good oater, but with the genre undergoing an impressive revival with the likes of Bone Tomahawk, The Hateful Eight and Slow West, we've come to expect more than just a conveyor belt of cliches from our contemporary westerns.

There's little here that doesn't feel derivative. The central hook can't help but draw comparison with John Wick, but In a Valley of Violence lacks that film's hyper-stylised aesthetic. It falls between two bar-stools in this saloon, unable to decide if it's a gritty spaghetti-esque revenge tale or a Quick and the Dead style pastiche. Hawke's hero feels as is if he's in the former, but the rest of the larger than life characters belong in the latter camp.


The movie comes alive whenever Travolta is onscreen. His Sheriff, torn between upholding the peace and protecting his wayward son, provides both the film's most intriguing aspect and the actor's best performance since his '90s comeback. He doesn't feature enough sadly, with more time devoted to the awkward romance between Paul and Farmiga's besotted teenage admirer.

If the trappings of the western genre are enough to keep you happy, In a Valley of Violence does just enough to entertain. But displaying an understanding of the genre's tropes should be the starting point for a filmmaker, not the be all and end all, as is the case here.

In a Valley of Violence is available on DVD now.





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