Apparently 2016 is a breakout year for Ethan Hawke westerns. Okay, so I’m being a tad facetious, but the 45 year-old Austin, Texas native has released two westerns over the last few months. The first was the crowd-pleasing shoot-em-up remake of “The Magnificent Seven”. And then there is this film, the much leaner and less serious “In a Valley of Violence”.
The film is written, edited and directed by Ti West, a filmmaker most known for his small, fresh takes on the horror genre. West has much the same goal in mind here, but at the same time this is a clear-coated homage plump full of familiar western tropes. West’s tongue-in-cheek handling of the material enables his celebration of the traditional western to also feel surprisingly fresh.
“In a Valley of Violence” proclaims the age-old prophecy (or at least it should be an age-old prophecy if it isn’t) – don’t come between a man and his dog. That’s exactly what happens when a drifter named Paul (Hawke) and his dog Abbie come across the small, rundown town of Denton on their way to the Mexican border. Denton is clearly a dangerous place as evident by its scarcity of citizens and its boarded-up church. But Paul needs supplies so he moseys into town.
And can you ever stop in a small western town without hitting the local saloon? Paul does that very thing and has run-in with a drunken hothead named Gilly (James Ransone). Words are exchanged, a punch is thrown, Gilly’s nose is broken, and the town’s Marshal Clyde Martin (John Travolta) sends Paul on his way with a warning never to return. Sounds fair enough, but it wouldn’t be much of a story if ended on that note. Things sour and we see the violent side of Paul that has been simmering under the surface.
The story doesn’t stray too far from the traditional western revenge tale, but Hawke and Travolta both energize it with some really good performances. There is also some really good supporting work from Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of actress Vera Farmiga). She plays a young woman who helps run the town’s hotel and sees Denton for the unruly dead-end that it is.
It’s an enjoyable small cast who seem to have fun with West’s material particularly the humor. Despite its ominous threatening title, “In a Valley of Violence” is surprisingly funny. Some of its laughs come at the most unexpected times and range from subtle to absurdity. It never goes far enough to turn this into a spoof, but it does keep things light even when the tension amps up.
Despite its violence and dedication to formula, West and company (wisely) never take their movie too seriously. Even when it’s moving by the numbers, it remains quirky enough to feel slightly off-center. Appropriately shot in 35mm and featuring a sparkling Jeff Grace score, the film looks and sounds as it should which will endear it to genre fans. But most impressive is its ability to embrace the conventional and set our expectations only to then shake things up just enough for us to see things through a new lens. That makes this film too appealing to pass up.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
Sounds interesting enough to me. When you commented that this movie was “less serious” than The Mag Seven I was taken aback a bit. That movie was pretty silly. But I guess it did have some dramatic bits in it. Even if the bloodshed was completely CGI-ed out, like some sort of Disney flick. I love Ethan Hawke and to see him in another western would be cool. Added to the list!
I’m not sure if the Mag7’s silliness was always intentional and it’s main story is pretty serious. You’ll notice something slightly out of whack in this one pretty early on. Ti West loves bringing that approach to his films. I think you’ll have some fun with this one.
Ti West seems like such an inconsistent filmmaker but I’ll definitely have to give this guy a shot! I think it’ll be my first movie of his
You sent this as I was reading your 30-for-30 post!
I actually like Ti West a lot. I have reviews going up shortly for two other films of his – “The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers”. For me he has a really cool knack for embracing the familiar yet still making it feel unique. That doesn’t work for everyone but I tend to appreciate that about his work. I still need to see The Sacrament.
Oh, I really want to see this now because of your review, Keith. Thanks for the heads-up. 🙂
Thanks. It’s actually received a simultaneous release in select theaters and on demand PPV. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to see it.
Will keep my eyes peeled for this one 🙂
It’s a fun one. There’s something inherently attractive about a Hawke/Travolta western. Just sounds goofy.
I’ve never heard of this until now but Westerns seem to be cropping up everywhere on my radar lately. I’ve got them all on a list that I might have to binge my way through!
This one sounds well worth a watch though, great review!
This one is fun. It’s a pretty familiar story but it does several interesting and unexpected things. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Still debating whether or not to check this one out, but your review might have been the push I needed!
I had fun with it. I like Ti West’s approach to genre pictures. He tends to embrace familiar tropes but always puts in his own unique flavor which makes them feel slightly off-centered (in a good way). I like the freshness he brings. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Another western! I’m loving this revival mate, we’ve had The Homesman, The Salvation, Mag7 of course, Hateful Eight….. I want more and this looks like something I’ll like a lot. Thanks a ton for putting it on my radar mate!
I have never heard of Ti West, I’ll need to check out what he has done. imdb here I come
Thanks for reading Jordan. Westerns have made a bit of a comeback. Slow West is another recent one (with Michael Fassbender). This one is interesting. It takes some very familiar cues from the genre but puts several twists to them. That has become somewhat of a signature for Ti West. Actually this is the first of three Ti West’s films I am reviewing. The second went up a short time ago and the third should go out later today.
Ooo I’ll have a look at that one. I heard about Slow West but never saw it, I’ll have to note that down.
Slow West was really good. A bit subversive as many new westerns are.
Another one added to the list! 🙂 Man, you bloggers sure have given me a truly endless supply of films to watch!!
Ahah, very true about Ethan Hawke Keith, it’s rare to see him in two Westerns in a year! I just saw this poster on Netflix, I might give it a shot though generally I’m not a big fan of Westerns.
Considering you’re not a fan of the genre it’s hard to determine whether or not you’ll like this one. It definitely plays within that familiar western sandbox. But it does just enough different to make the movie feel unique. If you like the actors it’s even more worth the watch.