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The Western has had a bit of a rebirth of late, with a number of films in the genre hitting the big screen to some degree of success. It’s always been a troublesome area for studios, as the specific setting seems limiting for some audiences, despite a few very good films getting attention. One of my favorites in recent years, and one I’ve mentioned a few times, is last year’s Bone Tomahawk, a brilliant and disturbing indie film that is clearly an influence on many parts of this newest entry.
We meet Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog, Abbie, a loyal mutt with almost more character than its owner. They are making their way through the desert toward Mexico for unknown reasons and stumble upon a priest who warns him to veer away from a nearby town called Denton, for it is a place of lechery and sin. Naturally, Paul heads for the town, needing fresh water for him, his horse and Abbie. The man seems comfortable with lechery and sin.
Once there, it’s not long before Paul finds the trouble the priest warned of while getting a drink at the saloon. He runs into a gnarly talkative man named Gilly (James Ransom), who is slightly off his kilter and takes Paul’s gruff personality as insult. When the slight leads to an altercation in the street, things only get worse. Gilly and his sidekicks commit a startling act of violence on Paul, and it sets off a series of escalating bouts of revenge that draws in Gilly’s father, The Marshal (John Travolta), who first suggested Paul take leave of Denton but realizes soon this will actually be a fight to the finish.
Written and directed by Ti West, who has well-established himself as a voice to be reckoned with in terms of delivering effective horror, In A Valley Of Violence lives up to its title and then some, creating a kind of fantastical vision of what the wild West might be like as seen through the eyes of historians centuries from now. That might sound like I’m trying to say this movie is ahead of its time, but it finds a solid place in the now, with some truly original and yet familiar moments. There is an in-your-face recklessness to the whole affair that is, for the right viewer, utterly compelling in its brassy performances and bombastic style. You’ll laugh, you’ll jump, you’ll wince, and you may even look away, but you’ll never lose interest. So sharp is the humor, it nearly becomes a parody of itself. Nearly.I must say–aside from Hawke’s formidable turn here, chewing up what he can, becoming an actor of late with tremendous presence, which is a far cry from the boyishness appeal of much of his career–it is Travolta who truly delivers. Donning a fake leg and another look-at-me hair-piece, he ends up giving a sublimely slick and funny performance that rivals just about anything he’s done of late, including his celebrated stint as Robert Shapiro. It just goes to show that given the right script and the proper direction, the man can make it work. Quirky mannerisms and subtle reactions have long been a trademark of the actor, but here, they ring especially true. He’s fun to watch. How often has that been the case of late?
In A Valley Of Violence, by its title alone, is what it claims, and it wisely doesn’t take itself too seriously, though this is no comedy. For those who have seen movies such Bone Tomahawk and the like, the jarring graphic violence will be less so, but be warned, it’s gruesome. Still, West makes sure to layer it all in humor, and this is where the film finds its mark. The balance would seem impossible but West keeps it upright and for the most part, succeeds in delivering a truly entertaining Western.
Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Stars: John Travolta, Karen Gillan, Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga