In a Valley of Violence

Studio: Focus World
Directed by Ti West

Oct 20, 2016 Summer 2008 - The Protest Issue
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While making their way to Mexico, a drifter named Paul and his loyal dog stop in the dying frontier town of Denton. There they run afoul of a crooked U.S. Marshall, his sadistic deputy and two quarrelsome sisters running the town hotel. Like many other Western protagonists, Paul thought he'd put his violent days behind him. But we all know how that goes. 

At first glance, In a Valley of Violence seems like a major departure for writer/director Ti West. Known exclusively for his lo-fi indie horror flicks such as House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, his newest feature is a seemingly straightforward riff on man-with-no-name-style revenge flicks and spaghetti westerns. But working in a wholly different genre doesn't stop West from indulging in many of his old habits. Several scenes feature jump scares. The score—outside of the more traditional main theme—is jarring and shrill. A flashback to Paul fighting Indians is something out of a zombie film. Also in the mix is Ti West's ever-present comedic bent, which hits and misses pretty spectacularly throughout the film. Every sight gag and reaction shot involving the dog is hilarious, which is not something you can say about most movies. The human cast, however, is not all on the same page when it comes to tone and performance pitch.

As Paul, Ethan Hawke is the only actor playing it relatively straight. Now in his mid-forties, Hawke is still leading-man handsome and sufficiently weathered to play a Western protagonist, despite distinctly modern cadence and mannerisms. At the other end of the spectrum, there's James Ransone as the sadistic deputy and Karen Gillan as his fiancé. Best known for his performance as Ziggy on season two of The Wire, Ransone is comfortably within his wheelhouse as a violent blowhard who's all bark and no bite. Working himself into a frothing, shrieking rage in every scene, Ransone takes the character well past appropriately hate-able and into annoying. Gillan is similarly cranked up to eleven. Acquitting himself surprisingly well given his recent descent into the direct-to-VOD action abyss is John Travolta, as the Marshall (and Ransone's disapproving father.) Turning his recent slide into middle-aged paunch to his advantage, Travolta allows a glimmer of the charisma he wielded in Pulp Fiction to shine through. His performance is the film in microcosm, silly and bizarre, but engaging nonetheless. 

Author rating: 6.5/10

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