By Last Caress.
In a Valley of Violence, the new movie from horror maestro Ti West, is the latest in a string of recent revival westerns which include Bone Tomahawk (Zahler, 2015), The Hateful Eight (Tarantino, 2015) and the remade The Magnificent Seven (Fuqua, 2016) among several others. But is it any good?
A drifter going by the name of Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog, Abby, wander into the almost deserted, former mining town of Denton and are immediately set upon by the town braggart, Gilly (James Ransone). Paul dismisses this idiot with a single punch but the set-to brings the attention of the town Marshal (John Travolta), who also happens to be Gilly’s father. The Marshal ascertains quickly that this drifter, Paul, is a deserter from a lethal post-Civil War military kill squad currently assigned to indiscriminately wiping out the entire Cheyenne nation and decides to defuse the situation by agreeing not to turn Paul over to the army provided he and his dog leave Denton immediately, and never return. And that should have been that, except that the Marshal’s gormless son’s pride has been wounded in front of his hee-haw buddies, he needs reparation.and, if you’ve seen John Wick (Stahelski, 2014), you may have an idea as to how he decides to go about it. When will movie bad guys learn that you can mess with a man’s lady, but when you mess with a man’s canine, you reap the whirlwind? The rest of this economical little revenge western more-or-less tells itself.
In a rare break from his more familiar slow-burn horror territory, In a Valley of Violence was written and directed by Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament), and to be honest I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it at all, initially. The set of Denton didn’t look very well aged and the paucity of extras gave everything a decidedly on-the-cheap feel. Also, I felt that Ethan Hawke and John Travolta, both of whom I like generally, were miscast. But, as the movie progressed, the stripped aesthetic grew on me and so did Mr. Travolta’s performance; his character, at first glance a stock crooked small-town tyrant, is in fact closer to Gene Hackman’s character “Little” Bill Daggett in Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992): A hard guy placed in a bad spot. I still don’t feel that Ethan Hawke’s your man if you’re casting a haunted, no-nonsense agent of death but the dog is worth the ticket price on it’s own (as is the magnificent spaghetti western-inspired title sequence) and, overall, In a Valley of Violence is well worth a look; it’s certainly the liveliest Ti West film I’ve ever seen, by some measure.
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