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Title: In a Valley of Violence

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :1star:

HTS Overall Score:76

I’ve been really pleased with the increase in Westerns being produced lately. It’s nothing like the peak years of the 1960s and 1970s when John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and the like were dominating the silver screen every year. However, it’s a far cry from the wasteland of death that the western was relegated to in the 90s and beyond. But there has been a slow and steady resurgence of classic western films making their way into theaters once more. I had a blast with the remake of “The Magnificent Seven” and with “In a Valley of Violence” coming hot on that successes heels, I was primed and ready to watch another one. Especially starring Ethan Hawke who was in the afore mentioned remake. “In a Valley Violence” isn’t as epic or as good as “The Magnificent Seven”, but it has an earnestness and honesty about it that is extremely refreshing. Basically your typical revenge western, it keeps itself quickly paced and appropriately rugged enough to capture the harshness of the old west. And quick tongued and fast triggered enough to satisfy the action cravings that the genre advertised. The western isn’t completely successful in everything it sets out to accomplish, but it is certainly a satisfactory film in a genre that has been comatose for several decades.

As I said a few lines ago. “In a Valley of Violence” is your typical revenge flick at heart. A drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) ends up in a small grunge town called Denton in New Mexico with his dog Abby. You’re clued in real fast that Paul is a rough and vicious man at heart, but he’s trying to live the straight and narrow. No violence unless called for, and no strong words unless provoked. However, he’s drawn into a fist fight (which he handily wins) with the local bully named Gilly (James Ransone) which draws his violence to the surface. While beating down a punk like Gilly may seem like nothing for the worn out drifter, it turns out to be a much bigger deal when Paul finds out that Gilly is actually the son of the local Marshall, one Marshall Martin (John Travolta). An overbearing and slightly “unorthodox” lawman who warns Paul that he understands his reason for giving Gilly a beat down, but that he needs to get out of town FAST and never come back.

Obliging the Marshall under pretenses that he will not be molested, Paul and Abby leave the town in their dust only to be ambushed by Gilly and his deputy friends, leaving Paul thrown down a ravine and Abby murdered in front of his eyes against the Marshall’s decree. Now this just does not go unpunished. I don’t care what you believe, but you DON’T mess with a man’s dog (seriously? Have none of these guys watched “John Wick”?) and Paul is NOT pleased. Grabbing his gun and steeling his heart to do violence, the drifter heads back into town on a mission vengeance and god help the man (or woman) who gets in his way.

While “In a Valley of Violence” is a simple film, it does take a while to get to the bloody showdown. Director/writer Ti West does a great job of setting up the scenario in the first 2 acts of the film. The opening scene is quick and violent, but never really explicit. Allowing the viewer to see the short fuse that Paul has while recognizing that he really doesn’t WANT to use his innate brutality. His relationship with his dog Abby is intensely visceral, with Ti West showing long slow shots of Abby panting adorably and cuddling up to her owner in a way that makes once knowingly guess her fate later on. It’s a technique that is also used in “John Wick” to endear the audience to the pet so that her fate will become all the more angering and real to them, and while it’s not particularly clear it IS rather effective.

There are whole worlds of information that are told in the offhand comments throughout the film. Ti West weaves in infinite possibilities with Paul’s past with his mentioning a living wife and daughter out east that he abandoned like his military due to the guilt he feels. A dog who’s slightly explained but never REALLY fulfilled, and even his relationship with 16 year old Hotel proprietor Mary Anne (Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of Vera Farmiga) says volumes in the short time they get on screen. Still, these short unspoken stories also work against the plot as you sometimes feel a bit “left out” from the meat of the backstory. There’s so much to tell that it feels almost overwhelming for the short film, even though it really is almost simplistic at times.

Ti West is normally at home with horror films like “Innkeepers” and “V/H/S”, but he does rather well adapting his overtly creepy style to the western genre. There’s a scene where Paul is dreaming of his past sins that dips ever so slightly into the filming style of West’s previous horror entries, but it actually feels right at home with the brutality and viciousness of the old west. Hawke is fantastic as the tortured Paul, and Taissa Farmiga is delightfully charming in her portrayal of Mary Anne. I’m usually nervous about John Travolta in films these days as he’s become the next Steven Seagal of DTV films, but I was pleasantly surprised. Being a bit bone weary and tired works well for the old lawman and his natural charisma and stylish acting lends itself to the showdown between the two men.


Rated R for Violence and Language

Video :4.5stars:
The 2.40:1 AVC encode Blu-ray from Universal Studios is very VERY nice for sure. Shot on film instead of digitally recorded, “In a Valley of Violence” maintains a healthy texture that is most befitting of a western (in my humble opinion). Colors are warm and dusty, with strong earthy tones and the colors that do shine through are ever so slightly dulled by the earthy grading that’s been done to the experience. The dark reds of blood seep through at times, as do soft blues and the sparkling colors of Ellens’s dresses, but overall the tone and dusty bleakness of the old west is replicated quite well. Blacks are appropriately inky and the shadowy rooms of the film show off plenty of detail when asked for. The facial tones and skin coloring is ever so slightly sallow due to the dusty and earthy coloring, but that is fairly expected from that type of grading and does not take away from the overall clarity of the movie.

Audio :4stars:
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track for “In a Valley of Violence” is almost as good as the video track, with a very spaghetti western inspired score by Jeff Grace. The surround channels tend to get good usage with his score, but it also doesn’t tend to be as immersive or as explosive as others in the genre. Dialog is strong and cleanly replicated in the front channel, while the mains get some good use with boots scraping along the dirt street, gunshots punctuating the silence as well as rustling ambient noises that move from the front to the back at will. LFE is fairly mild, but it also can side swipe the listener later on in the film when deep whallops of bass come out of nowhere and shock you back.

Extras :1star:

• "Behind the Scenes of In A Valley of Violence"
• Trailers

Overall: :3.5stars:

“In a Valley of Violence” is a nice revenge thriller in the western genre, and while it doesn’t always deliver everything it promises, it has such as an endearing earnestness and honesty to the presentation that you can hardly fault it. Ethan Hawke has been nailing it with his newest foray into the world of westerns and I was actually surprised at how much I liked John Travolta in the film. Ti West was not someone I initially expected to see in the Western genre, but once again. Pleasantly surprised. Audio and video for the Universal single disc is VERY impressive to say the least and the extras are actually quite decent for a film that almost slipped under my radar (despite the slim quantity). Solid watch for sure.

Additional Information:

Starring: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga
Directed by: Ti West
Written by: Ti West
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish, French, German DTS 5.1
Studio: Universal
Rated: R
Runtime: 104 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 27th 2016

Buy In a Valley of Violence On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Solid Watch

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