Ethan Hawke stars as Paul, a lone drifter who wanders into the forgotten town of Denton, Texas – dubbed by locals as the "valley of violence." There, he picks a fight with the wrong man, Gilly (James Ransone), the troublemaking son of the town's unforgiving marshal (John Travolta, Pulp Fiction). As tensions arise between Paul and Gilly, an inevitable act of violence starts a disastrous chain reaction that quickly drags the whole town into the bloody crosshairs of revenge. Only the world-weary marshal struggles to stop the violent hysteria, but after a gruesome discovery about Paul's past…there's no stopping the escalation.
"The worst thing you can do right now is say another word."
Just because a particular genre has a certain set of conventions, that doesn't mean it's always a good idea to play to every single one of them. Take the western for example. You don't always have to have the nameless wanderer. You don't always have to have the crooked town sheriff. You don't always have to have the hooker with the heart of gold or whatever variation of that character. While a good western can play with these archetypes and turn out just fine, it certainly doesn't need to have them all. Unfortunately, a good and simple revenge story found within 'In A Valley Of Violence' is lost in the weeds as character stereotypes fog up any good intentions.
Paul (Ethan Hawke) just wants to forget. He was once a good man. He once had a wife and a child. He used to be able to look them in the eye with pride, but after joining the cavalry his experience fighting Indians have left him ashamed of himself. All Paul wants to do is go to Mexico, someplace where no one knows who he is so he can forget his problems - and himself. Between him and Mexico is the dreary dwindling mining town of Denton. A quick stop for water and provisions turns sour when the brash Gilly (James Ransome) picks a fight with Paul. After laying Gilly out with a single punch, Paul brings a whole heap of trouble onto his shoulders in the form of Gilly's father the Marshal (John Travolta). With the help of a young hotel owner named Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga), Paul's only path to peace is with a loaded pistol in his hand.
I don't often say this about movies, but sometimes I wish characters would just shut the hell up. Written and Directed by Ti West, 'In A Valley Of Violence' contains some of the most mind-numbingly trite and irritating dialogue uttered by some of the most unlikable characters I've seen in a great long time. This is a film that feels like someone watched other better westerns from Howard Hawks or John Ford for the plot, a Sergio Leone western for the opening titles, and then copied the speech cadence of an Elmore Leonard western like 'Hombre' and then churned out a script. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't bother me so much but it's so completely deliberate and impossible to avoid that it becomes harder and harder to like the film at all. Rather than giving characters mouthfuls of bad dialogue, the film should have just stuck to the basics and let a simple revenge plot unfold.
Ethan Hawke makes out okay in all of this. His Paul is a believably haunted man ashamed of his past. He's not the usual man-with-no-name drifter who cleans up the town. He's got his own goals and would rather avoid people altogether. It's only until he can't avoid conflict that he throws a punch or picks up a gun. Stuck in performance middle ground is John Travolta's Marshal. At any given time, Travolta is either menacing, meh, or just plain silly. He's stuck in the middle of a fight, so on that level, his character works, but he's hardly a dynamic presence. Then there is James Ransome's Gilly. I'm not sure if his character was supposed to be this simultaneous combination of silly and annoying, but he's hardly a menacing bad guy. After awhile, his character just becomes a joke that talks entirely too much too often.
Where my frustration for this movie really comes from is the fact that it could have been good. It was a simple, well produced looking western that was actually shot on 35mm. It has a nice grittiness to it and the set work is impressive. The story at its core is workable, nothing incredible, but it would make a solid entry in the genre under normal circumstances. It's the characters found within 'In A Valley Of Violence' that leave the final product languishing in the dust.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'In A Valley Of Violence' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc. The disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case with identical slip cover. The disc loads to trailers for other Universal releases before arriving at a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. Also included is a Digital HD voucher slip.
'In A Valley Of Violence' arrives with a pleasing 2.40:1 1080p transfer. Shot on film, the image retains a present but not noisy grain structure that allows all of the New Mexico location scenery to shine through. Close-ups, midrange shots, and establishing shots look fantastic and feature a terrific sense of depth and dimension throughout the run of the film. Grizzled beards and dusty clothes look fantastic. Colors skew towards the warmer yellow/brown earth tones, flesh tones can look a little more on the tan side of things in places while appearing pasty and pale during other scenes, but otherwise everything has a nice natural and healthy appearance. Black levels are solid throughout with a nice inky presence to them. Free of any notable compression issues or damage, this is a solid transfer.
With a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track, 'In A Valley Of Violence' makes the most of its sound design. There is an ever-present effect of wind and grit in the mix that keeps the side and rear channels engaged. Dialogue has a strong front/center presence and is never at odds with the score or ambient effects. The score by Jeff Grace does it's best to ape an Ennio Morricone vibe, and for the most part, achieves its goal without tripping up dialogue or sound effects. Background and ambient effects provide a nice sense of dimension. Gunshots get their due and have a nice cannon-like bombastic presence to them - as would be expected from a western. All around this is a great audio mix.
Behind The Scenes of 'In A Valley Of Violence': (HD 2:00) As the lone bonus feature, not even a trailer was included, this is a brief almost pointless EPK feature that doesn't do a whole lot.
I love westerns. I get excited whenever a new one comes out whether it gets a big theatrical release or not just for the simple sake that iI want to see more from the genre than is readily produced these days. Unfortunately, 'In A Valley Of Violence' didn't win me over. A solid and simple plot is undercut by some hammy performances thanks to an overstuffed script that likes to hear its characters say entirely too much. Universal brings the film to Blu-ray with a terrific A/V presentation. Extra features are virtually non-existent. I wanted to like this one, I really did. I just didn't. If you're hankering for a viewing, I would say it's at least rentable, but not much more than that.