In A Valley Of Violence
Released By: Universal
December 27, 2016.
Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan, John Travolta
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When Paul (Ethan Hawke) comes riding into the desolate town of Denton, with his dog Abby and a haunted past trailing only slightly behind, he figures that he'll be lucky to pick up supplies and maybe a hot bath. Finding the general store closed, he heads over to the local saloon for a bowl of water for his pup, but takes a seat at the bar when he finds out that the supply store is likely to be closed for awhile longer. As chance would have it, it is at that precise moment in time that a traveling salesman is catching heat from local tough guy Gilly (James Ransome) and his buddies, a show of drunken bravado that soon envelopes everyone in the saloon.
When Paul is unable to quietly talk his way out of the confrontation, Gilly demands a showdown in the street; not a duel with pistols, just a regular old fair fight. Forced into the predicament, Paul reluctantly obliges, busting Gilly's nose and dropping him with one punch in front of Gilly's stunned buddies. Convinced that the altercation has been settled, he heads back to the store to grab his supplies, and he and Abby head over to a nearby hotel in search of a bath. Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga), the young matron of the establishment, is talkative and helpful, offering a bath, food, and friendly conversation, but the appearance of Marshal Clyde Martin (John Travolta) spoils the warmth of the hospitality.
As it turns out, Marshal Clyde shares the same last name as one Gilly Martin...his son, and a deputy, to boot...and despite the fact that Paul acted strictly in self defence, the Marshal takes it upon himself to encourage the drifter to get out of town or suffer the thinly-veiled consequences. Eager to avoid trouble, Paul and Abby hit the trail to Mexico, but soon find that Gilly's humiliation in front of his friends is something that the mouthy deputy is not willing to forgive. You can knock a man downs, step on his face, drink his liquor from an old fruit jar, and maybe even step on his blue suede shoes, but messing with his beloved dog will most certainly and rightfully bring bloody vengeance; and Gilly, Marshal Clyde, and the town of Denton are about to find out what the young drifter and his disturbing past are capable of; proof of the old adage that if you're going to kill a man, you better damned sure make sure that he's really dead.
From the opening shots employing "heat haze cam" to the animated title credits that are either an homage or a severe aping of Iginio Lardani's work on the Leone films, to Jeff Grace's Morricone-like, multi-instrumental score, it's pretty obvious what Writer/Director Ti West was going for with In A Valley of Violence, and Ethan Hawke's mysterious Man With Almost No Name character removes any doubt. West has been pretty successful in the past doling out horror, but how does he stand in the Western genre? "Mixed results" is probably the best description. First off, West does it up right by loading the film with acting talent. Hawke somehow resurrects his mousy character from Dead Poets Society for the role of Paul, and it's absolutely perfect for the role...in the beginning. Travolta, in his first Western, nails the persona of the slightly corrupt law...in the beginning. And while Taissa Farmiga leans more towards stage acting in this, over-emoting and over-dialoguing, she's more than acceptable as whatever passes as a heroine in such a film. Really, James Ransome is the constant in this film, bringing that dickish quality to his role of Gilly full-fledged, from start to finish. While there are most definitely stronger talents in the film, Ransome emerges the winner for being such a convincing, unfaltering little shithead.
With a roster of acting talent, an aesthetic that, well...is up for debate as to the merits of its homageness vs rippedoffness, but still pleasant to take in, nonetheless...and a score that falls into the same pool as the aesthetic, it's really down to the writing to take this one home. And despite a very strong first hour or so, where West and co. line up all over the pieces perfectly to create what could be a satisfying revenge western, cracks start to appear during the execution, growing wider as the film nears its close. When a viewer shares the trauma that Paul endures, they expect brutal, bloody retaliation. And while there is blood...and retaliation...Hawke's character reverts to the quiet, uncertain fellow that we met at the start, instead of the personification of rage that he should be. Travolta turns into his Pulp Fiction character, wisecracking and comedically inept. Character development, plot device, who knows? But it all but stops the film in its tracks. And while there can be no doubt that the body count will rise by the closing credits, it's no Spaghetti John Wick, leaving a rather ho-hum taste in the mouth at the conclusion.
Universal brings In A Valley Of Violence to Blu-ray (and Digital HD) with an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 transfer that looks great, with loads of detail and a look that captures the spirit of Leone's westerns and films like High Plains Drifter. Black levels are solid, dust is dusty, and contrast is fitting. No issues to be seen in this, which is what's expected for a recent film; In A Valley of Violence isn't full of punch contrast-blowouts and over-saturation, but looks very natural.
Audio is handled courtesy of a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track (French, Spanish, and German lossy DTS 5.1 tracks are also available) and like the video transfer, this is a well-done endeavour. Making use of the surrounds for ambient noise, splitting up the multi-instrument score, and some fine bullet ricochets, the track reigns the soundstage in tastefully, keeping dialogue and primary sounds up front, with moderate use of the LFE. No hisses, pops, or crazy dynamics to be found here; this is surround sound as it's meant to be.
English SDH as well as French, Spanish, and German subtitles are also available.
The lone extra on the disc is Behind The Scenes (2:00), essentially a trailer for the film with a few interview clips from Ethan Hawke, and some fourth wall action from Travolta.
The Final Word:
In A Valley of Violence sports a classic look and sound, but doesn't quite deliver on the carnage that it should. The Universal Blu-ray is a fine way to view the film, but the lack of extras may be disappointing to some.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
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- DVD And Blu-ray Reviews G-M