×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘In a Valley of Violence’

Ti West offers a skilled, slightly warped cover version of a familiar Western tune.

With:
Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan, Toby Huss, Tommy Nohilly, Larry Fessenden, Michael Davis, Burn Gorman

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3608930/

Walking a fine line between charming lark and smirking goof, Ti West’s “In a Valley of Violence” is a Western homage that has its heart in the genre, but not so much in the story. Stripping its gunslinger plot down to the most essential pillars, the film has plenty of incidental pleasures to offer: a few chuckles, some typically Westian explosions of violence, a deliriously fun score, and a pair of perfectly solid performances from Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. (The real standout performance, however, comes courtesy of Jumpy, the magnificent collie who stars as Hawke’s dog.) But there’s a nagging emptiness where its center ought to be, a feeling that what we’re watching isn’t a finished film so much a proof of concept, a skilled, slightly warped cover version of a familiar tune. West’s grasp of the rhythms and the grace notes of the Western idiom is undeniable, but he never seems to find a film worth telling within it.

The basic outlines of “Violence” are Dick-and-Jane in their simplicity: “High Plains Drifter” by way of “John Wick.” Hawke stars as Paul, a grizzled loner fleeing a mysterious past toward Mexico with his trusty steed and multitalented pooch, Abbie, by his side. Standing between him and the border is the desolate outpost of Denton, which requires Paul’s arrival to even count as a one-horse town. Not long after rolling into the local saloon, he runs afoul of a gang of roughnecks lead by the hair-trigger Gilly (James Ransone, aggressively chewing every syllable of his black-hat speeches, several of which go on at least twice as long as they need to).

Only after laying out the cocky Gilly with a single punch does Paul learn that he’s the son of the town marshal (Travolta), who runs him out of town minutes after he’s managed to pick up a lonely female admirer in 16-year-old Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga, charmingly motormouthed), who helps run the very vacant local inn. Paul is pursued to the outskirts of town by Gilly and his gang, and their attempted ambush causes him to swear revenge on the whole settlement.

Though often pigeonholed as a horror purist, West is first and foremost an astute student of genre in general, and his affection for the Western is palpable in every frame. Eric Robbins’ 35mm lensing is rich and textured, sensitively exploring but never prettying up the dusty New Mexico locations. The climactic siege, which takes up roughly a third of the film, benefits from sensible, easily followed geography. And Jumpy delivers one of the most charismatic canine performances since the late Uggie in “The Artist,” not only performing impressive tricks, but also providing Hawke with more palpable chemistry than any of his human co-stars.

So why does the whole film, impressive as it is, flutter by with such a whimper? Perhaps it’s West’s decision to play the verbal duels straight and the pistol duels as jokes, robbing the former of any juicy, literate patter, and the latter of real emotional stakes or tension. We never get more than a glimmer of personality within these well-worn character types, and West never digs beneath them to offer any sort of commentary or criticism.

If “In a Valley of Violence” ends up being largely enjoyable all the same, a good deal of credit ought to go to composer Jeff Grace, whose Morricone-indebted score hits all the right notes and helps keep the picture tonally on track.

Film Review: 'In a Valley of Violence'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Headliners), March 12, 2016. Running time: 103 MIN.

Production: A Focus World presentation of a Blumhouse production. Produced by Jason Blum, Jacob Jaffke, Peter Phok. Executive producers, Alix Taylor, Jeanette Volturno-Brill, Ti West.

Crew: Directed, written, edited by Ti West. Camera (color, 35 mm), Eric Robbins; music, Jeff Grace; production designer, Jade Healy; art director, Ra Arrancio-Parrain; costume designer, Malgosia Turzanska; sound, Darryl Frank; sound designer, Graham Reznick; re-recording mixers, Reznick, Tom Efinger; assistant director, Thomas Deckaj; casting, Terri Taylor.

With: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan, Toby Huss, Tommy Nohilly, Larry Fessenden, Michael Davis, Burn Gorman

More Film

  • Worst Movies of 2018 Christopher Robin

    The Worst Films of 2018

    Every critic’s worst movie is another’s best, but Variety critics Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman had to draw the line somewhere. Whether it was the year’s top film at the box office, or a right-wing documentary that’s even worse than the filmmaker’s previous outrages, it was a good year to hate-watch. Peter Debruge’s Five Worst [...]

  • Portrait of Czech playwright and civil

    Vaclav Havel Biopic Receives $635,000 From Czech Film Fund

    Czech director Slávek Horák, who was chosen as one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch three years ago, has received 14.5 million Czech Koruna ($635,000) from the Czech Film Fund for his second feature film, a biopic of Václav Havel, the Czech writer and dissident, who became President of Czechoslovakia, and later President of the [...]

  • Les Arcs's Co-Production Village Kicks Off

    Les Arcs's Co-Production Village Kicks Off 10th Edition

    Marylise Dumont’s “Black Dog,” Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s “Ashes and Snow” and “Each of Us” are among the 20 projects which will be pitched at the 10th edition of Les Arcs Film Festival’s Co-Production Village. The Co-Production Village will run alongside the festival which will be presided by Ruben Ostlund, the Swedish helmer of Palme d’Or-winning [...]

  • Maria Alché Debut ‘A Family Submerged’

    Visit Films Sells Key Territories With Maria Alché Debut ‘A Family Submerged’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID — New York’s Visit Films announced at Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur market, that the company has secured distribution in Mexico and Spain on Maria Alché’s directorial debut, “A Family Submerged.” In Mexico, the film was snagged by top indie production and distribution company Interior 13 Cine, distributors for Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s Colombian [...]

  • Macao

    'Clean Up' Takes Top Prize at Macao Festival and Awards

    Korean drama movie, “Clean Up” took the best film prize on Friday night at the closing ceremony of the International Film Festival and Awards Macao. The jury, which comprised Chen Kaige, Danis Tanovic, Mabel Cheung, Paul Currie, and Tillotama Shome, said: “’Clean Up’ is a powerful, visceral film which is symbolic and naturalistic at the [...]

  • Breaking Glass Snags Prizewinning Argentine Gay

    Ventana Sur: Breaking Glass Snags Argentine Gay Drama ‘Marilyn’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a last-minute deal inked at Ventana Sur, Breaking Glass Pictures (BGP) snapped up North American rights to gay-trans drama “Marilyn,” the feature debut of Argentine helmer-scribe Martin Rodríguez Redondo. The Philadelphia-based company has been on a mini-buying spree, having previously snagged threesome drama “We Are Three” at the Buenos Aires confab. BGP has bought [...]

  • Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in

    Paramount Inks Deal for Theme Park in South Korea

    Paramount Pictures has announced a deal to install a studio-branded theme park in an entertainment resort being developed in South Korea. The agreement was struck between Paramount and Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, which owns the Inspire Integrated Entertainment Resort in the South Korean city of Incheon. Mohegan has invested KRW 2.8 trillion ($2.4 billion) in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content