Westerns have been around since cinema has begun. It was one of the most popular genres a half of century ago. It though has fallen on hard times as the studios have gone for reboots, sequels and comic book heroes. That’s a shame because it can pack a wallop when done right. IN THE VALLEY OF VIOLENCE is a solid entry in the field and should be sought out. It was barely released to the theaters, but now can be rediscovered through home video.
Paul (Ethan Hawke) is a guy who is haunted by his past. He wants to get away from it as fast as he can. He is traveling the dusty path of the Southwest with his trusty dog Abbie. He is a loner and he has frequent conversations with his dog and with his abandoned wife. Right now he just wants to get to Mexico where the best part is that most of the people don’t speak English. Paul has a memorable encounter with a priest along the way which shows that he doesn’t take guff from anyone. Hawke uses a more coarse voice for this role which suits it. There is a weathered tone to it that states matter of fact that this guy has seen and done many bad things in his life.
Paul comes upon a failing mining town named Denton. Denton has all the markings of a Western town. It has a hardware store, a rowdy saloon and lodging for the people who stumbled upon it. Paul is a man of few words, but when he says something he means it. In the saloon, the town folk are listening to a pitch from a slimy salesman who is selling various items including guns. He is selling the guns for the whopping total of thirty dollars because they are the newest and shiniest on the market. Gilly (James Ransone) does not like the salesman and he has a temper on him. He has words with Paul and they end up having a fight. This does not end well for Gilly.
Paul washes up and gets confronted by the marshal of the town named Clyde (John Travolta). Clyde informs Paul that Gilly is a son and he doesn’t want any more trouble. Clyde runs the town his way and he likes to keep it that way. Clyde informs Paul to get out of town and never to come back. Paul does do this, but Gilly has other ideas. He wants his revenge and doesn’t care what he has to do to get it. Most people will understandably wince at these scenes. They are brutal and get the point across that Gilly is not a person who suffers humiliation well. This sets up the inevitable second half where Paul tries to get his revenge.
Ti West has written and directed this film. He is more known for the horror genre with films like “The Innkeepers”, “The Sacrament” and “The House of the Devil” on his resume. All of those films got positive reviews. He shows here that he can adapt well to the Western genre. West has great command of the atmosphere. There is a palatable sense of dread throughout that something bad is coming. The violence here can be startling, but it is not overused. There is just the right amount where the impact is really felt.
All of the actors do a fine job with the material. Hawke does well with the Eastwoodesque type role where the character is all action and few words. He has a presence about him that I haven’t seen all the time with him. Travolta is the real surprise here. He is quite understated and now showy at all. That is a real departure from what we’ve seen in roles like when he chewed the scenery as Robert Shapiro in the O.J. Simpson anthology series. He lets the character breathe a bit. Clyde is not a typical villain character here. He straddles the line of black and white and is nestled squarely in the grey territory. That is where Paul resides as well. He can’t be called a hero necessarily. There is goodness in him, but we also see his dark side. West throws some curve balls to the audience with Paul in how he reacts to certain situations. You think he’s going to do one thing, but he does something complete different. Jumpy the dog that plays Abbie is a standout as well. She seems to take direction well and able to do quite a few things. I did have some issues with the dialogue that West uses at times. It feels a bit too modern for the time period. But that is a minor quibble.
IN THE VALLEY OF VIOLENCE is a well written and directed western that has good performances and is a welcome entry into the genre. The New Mexico scenery looks great on the screen and gives the movie an authentic feel to it.
Video: New Mexico stands out in the video transfer. You can practically feel the dust coming through your television
Audio: The sound was pretty good. The dialogue was easy to make out
Behind the Scenes of In the Valley of Violence (2:00): This is a short feature that mostly has Ethan Hawke talking about the story and his character