The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE STOLEN VALLEY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE STOLEN VALLEY

The Stolen Valley review
A young Navajo woman allies with a white outlaw to take on her land baron father.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jesse Edwards

Starring: Briza Covarrubias, Allee Sutton Hethcoat, Micah Fitzgerald, Paula Miranda, Estaban Cueto, Ricardo Herranz

The Stolen Valley poster

With its rodeo ridin', pistol packin', flamenco dancin' heroines, writer/director Jesse Edwards' feature debut The Stolen Valley is a dumb but reasonably enjoyable cross between Thelma and Louise and a 1970s exploitation flick for about half of its running time. It's when it attempts to tackle the issue of the mistreatment of Native Americans by exploitative white men in its second half that it falls apart, its reductive script completely incapable of exploring this subject with any depth or nuance.

The Stolen Valley review

The film boasts a pair of likeable leads in Lupe (Briza Covarrubias) and Maddy (Allee Sutton Heathcoat). Half Mexican/half Navajo Lupe works as a mechanic during the day and in her mother Adamina's (Paula Miranda) taco truck in the evenings. The mother and daughter dream of saving enough money to leave their barren patch of desert some day, but their plans are disrupted when Adamina collapses and is diagnosed with a brain tumour. The treatment required would cost a whopping $50,000 and all seems lost until Lupe learns of a family secret: the Mexican man in her family photos isn't actually her father but her grandfather, and her real father is a white man, Carl (Micah Fitzgerald), a corrupt land baron who stole Navajo land and now plans to sell it to an oil company.

Meanwhile blue-eyed blond outlaw Maddy is in debt to Mexican mobster Antonio (Ricardo Herranz). Meeting Antonio in the back of his pawn shop, where Lupe just happens to be trading in some Navajo jewellery, Maddy decides to shoot her way out rather than agreeing to further blackmail. Caught in the crossfire, Lupe ends up fleeing with Maddy.

The Stolen Valley review

What follows is the usual buddy movie shtick of lots of bickering between two mismatched people thrown together by fate, but the film never makes a convincing case as to why Lupe puts herself in danger by sticking with Maddy. Anyhow, the two head to meet Carl together and learnt the truth about his evil ways, ending up on a collision course with the land baron and his private army.

On paper The Stolen Valley has the ideal setup for a modern western, but Edwards' script is overly reliant on unlikely coincidences and the sort of reveals that wouldn't be out of place on a daytime soap opera. A land deed in Adamina's name becomes the film's macguffin as proof of its existence would ruin Carl's plans, but we're left to scratch our heads as to why Carl wouldn't have destroyed it long ago. The film's closing minutes have more shocking family secrets unveiled than an entire season of Dallas. Every character is a crude stereotype, usually tied into their race. While the movie has lots to say about how awful white men are, its female and non-white characters are paper thin. One particular character exists solely for a convenient moment in the finale, which you can see coming from a mile away.

The Stolen Valley review

The Stolen Valley does have two things going for it. Its Utah setting means practically every shot is easy on the eye and adds a veneer of production value to a movie filmed in an unspectacular fashion. Despite how badly written the characters are, there are some compelling performances. As the mismatched heroines, Covarrubias and Sutton Heathcoat have a chemistry that papers over the cracks in their characters' unconvincing partnership. And Fitzgerald, who looks like an evil Willie Nelson, has the good sense to chew the gorgeous scenery as the villainous Carl. But such shading can't save the film from its one-dimensional storytelling.

The Stolen Valley
 is on UK/ROI VOD from April 15th.

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