In the 1950s and 60s, the Western was the king of cinema. Actors like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood ruled the roost as audiences lapped up stories of cowboys, Indians and the magnificent ugliness of the old west. Nowadays, Westerns are few and far between. It’s sadly a rather dead art and it takes something truly special to inject life into this old genre. Some succeed admirably – The Hateful Eight and Bone Tomahawk, for example – and others fade into obscurity within days of their release. This one falls somewhere in between.
In A Valley Of Violence, written and directed by Ti West, is a very traditional Western in terms of story. To quote IMDb’s short and sweet plot description; “a mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody crosshairs of revenge”. Mysterious stranger? Check. Violence? Check. Town of misfits? Check. Revenge? Check. It’s hardly bursting with narrative originality. But outside of its Western feel, there are other clear influences here - It feels like John Wick and Rambo had a baby, raised by Hugh Glass from The Revenant. But here’s a film that isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. No, In A Valley Of Violence embraces its traditional genre conventions and crafts itself as an affectionate love letter to the genre…but not much else.
That’s not to say there is absolutely no style or substance to back the narrative up. There’s a lot to like. The visuals are pretty wonderful and Jeff Grace’s score is a beaut. Ti West’s screenplay is decent enough albeit wholly predictable, and the direction is competent enough. But nothing hits as hard as it could.
Ethan Hawke, who also appeared in 2016’s The Magnificent Seven, is a strong fit for the cowboy role. He’s an actor I’ve always liked and he’s bloody good here as the film’s protagonist, a drifter by the name of Paul. Yes, Paul. But unfortunately, the film does suffer from a rather glaring example of miscasting - John Travolta as Marshal Clyde Martin. Travolta’s a great actor and I respect him, hell, I’m one of the very few people who thought he was incredible in The People vs. OJ Simpson. But there’s something about him here that doesn’t work. It’s not for a lack of trying, but I didn’t buy his performance. Sorry Big T, but every time I saw you on screen I thought “haha, look at John Travolta”. Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan is the only other performer here of note, and she doesn’t do anything particularly remarkable.
“Doesn’t do anything particularly remarkable” is a good summation of the film as a whole. It doesn’t do anything wrong as such and it’d be hard to argue that it is bad, but nothing about it aims to lodge itself in the viewer’s memory. While I’m still thinking about how good modern westerns like 2011’s True Grit were, I can’t imagine I’ll even remember this one a week from now. But at the end of the day, its aim is to entertain and it does succeed. It just doesn’t entertain as much as it had the potential to, and will soon be lost in the bargain bins of charity shops. Still, it is a loving homage to the old days if nothing else.
In A Valley Of Violence is just a big bowl of okay. No more, no less.
In A Valley Of Violence at CeX
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