By Daniella Nichinson, Staff Writer
The Wild West: perhaps the ideal setting for a tale of vengeance. Westerns are not nearly as popular as they were in the ‘50s and ‘60s, in the days of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, so when one comes around, it’s a nice refresher — at least from the bombardment of superhero films. Ti West’s “In a Valley of Violence” isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before, but with Hollywood’s long history of cowboy films, it’s hard not to fall into certain traps. West succeeds in catching and holding his audience’s attention from the first encounter with a drunk priest all the way through to the Quentin Tarantino-esque violent denouement.
The film’s story follows outcast Paul (Ethan Hawke) as he finds himself tangled up in a quest for revenge after a group of men from a desolate town kill his dog. As one might assume, if there’s one problem film has as a whole, it’s the lack of stakes. Truthfully, although the senseless murder of your dog is painful, it doesn’t seem to present a strong enough conflict to make up the backbone of the film.
Still, the film manages to succeed due to how ominously and hilariously entertaining it is. There’s plenty of moments of dark humor, especially in the film’s finale. John Travolta’s character, the Marshal of Denton, tells Tubby before a moment of possible flying bullets, that “since I’ve already been shot in this life, I think you ought to go first.”
Hawke is surprisingly convincing as the rugged loner whose main source of any kind of interaction comes from one-sided conversations with his dog. His character is extremely mysterious, so viewers don’t learn anything about his past until later in the film. Even the oft-derided John Travolta is just pure fun to watch in a Western. Taissa Farmiga also gives an enjoyable performance as Mary Anne, a young hotel manager who is the only character to side with Paul.
The real standout star of this film is the composer, Jeff Grace. He manages to create a stellar score to match the violence and the lonely dust plains of the West, echoing the works of Ennio Morricone and other prominent composers in Spaghetti Westerns. The menacing rhythms that accompany each scene are just as unpromising as the Wild West itself, and add a layer of depth to the film that would otherwise have been missed.
Ultimately, “In a Valley of Violence” is definitely a fitting name. Full of murder and plots for revenge, it’s reminiscent of the style made famous by Tarantino. Even the animated opening credits, which were a joy to watch, remind viewers of something Tarantino would do.
Though it may be derivative of films before it, “In a Valley of Violence” achieves one of the main purposes of filmmaking: entertainment. The film’s beautiful shots and a cast of characters led by Hawke’s gruff outsider evoke fond memories of a Hollywood genre long gone.
This film opened on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 and is playing at City CinemasVillage East Cinema.