In a Valley of Violence (2016)

  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Western
  • Director: Ti West
  • Cast: Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone


A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody crosshairs of revenge.

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  • Never mess with a man and his dog. Especially when that man has had some experience with killing. That was the lesson learned in John Wick and that same lesson is retaught in the spaghetti western throwback, In a Valley of Violence.

    Ethan Hawke is the man with no name (we later learn it’s Paul), who has forsaken his wife and daughter after his violent and traumatic time in the cavalry. All he has is trusty collie Abbie (the scene-stealing Jumpy), his faithful companion as they drift toward the Mexican border. To get to Mexico, they have to pass through the “Valley of Violence,” otherwise known as the one-horse town of Denton.

    The gunslinger isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble comes looking for him in the form of Gilly (James Ransone), who huffs and puffs until he needles Paul into knocking him out with a single punch in front of his gang of roughnecks and his girl Ellen (Karen Gillan, fine in a fairly thankless role). The problem is Gilly happens to be the son of the town marshal (John Travolta), who acknowledges to Paul that Gilly was in the wrong but orders Paul to get out of Denton and never come back…or else. The marshal warns his Gilly to let the matter drop, but the sadistic Gilly and his crew track down and ambush Paul in the dead of night for some payback.

    Wrong move. Deprived of Abbie and left for dead, Paul vows revenge. “I know I promised you I was done killing,” he says to Abbie’s grave, “but I’m gonna have to break that promise. These men left me with nothing. I’m going to leave them with less.”

    Director Ti West, best known for his horror films, clearly displays great affection for westerns without being too precious about the genre. Though made on a low budget, Eric Robbins’ 35mm lensing ensures that the film never looks cheap, and West’s staging has a geographical canniness that makes the film seem more expansive. West also successfully imbues the sobersided showdowns with moments of arch and sometimes cartoonish humour. There are times when he indulges the ridiculous dastardliness of Gilly, most particularly in Paul and Gilly’s initial encounter, and Ransone aids and abets by shamelessly chewing the scenery. Travolta, on the other hand, provides just the right level of hamminess to the marshal’s paternal exasperations.

    Hawke solidly anchors the proceedings, offering glimpses of vulnerability in his scenes with Taissa Farmiga as the 16-year-old Mary-Anne intent on snapping him out of his commitment to loneliness: “There’s no sense in being difficult. You make do with what you can.” Farmiga is just plain delightful in the role, motormouthing her way through the part with matter-of-fact optimism.

    In a Valley of Violence may not rise above genre conventions or complicate its characters or narrative too deeply, but it’s a spirited showing from all involved.

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