As a filmmaker deeply associated with horror, the idea of a Ti West revenge western set in the 1890s may cause some to do a double take. However, by the time the film’s wonderful animated opening credit sequence concludes it’s crystal clear that In a Valley of Violence is a Ti West film through and through. West’s signature is all over the film, from his dialogue-driven interactions and blood-soaked gore to his trademark humor and visual style. That’s not even to mention the film’s magnificent score, top-notch performances, and layered emotional undercurrents. In A Valley of Violence isn’t just a strong candidate for West’s best work. It’s one of the best westerns the genre has seen in years.
Ethan Hawke plays Paul, a mysterious man of few words on his way to Mexico with his trusted and multitalented pooch, Abbie. His last stop before the border is the desolate and sparsely populated town of Denton, where he runs afoul of some of the locals. One thing leads to another, and Paul very quickly finds himself in the middle of a blood-soaked quest for revenge. Hawke is magnificent as the film’s lead, expertly delivering dry one-liners while still hinting at his character’s darker, more tortured side. Paul is a familiar character within the genre, one that could have easily kept the audience at a distance. With the help of his director’s script, Hawke doesn’t just make the character his own; he makes it unforgettable.
In A Valley of Violence isn’t just a strong candidate for West’s best work. It’s one of the best westerns the genre has seen in years.
I would love to visit the set of a Ti West film just to see how he interacts with his actors. In a Valley of Violence is most certainly an ensemble piece, and you can feel West’s gleeful enjoyment watching his actors just off camera. Everyone is given multiple moments to shine no matter the size of their role, each of which is cast to perfection. James Ransone plays a terrific villain, and Karen Gillan is immensely enjoyable as his girl. Taissa Farmiga continues to prove that she is the single most underrated and charming actress working today. Burn Gorman is particularly fun as the best priest this side of Barry Fitzgerald. Between this film and his work on the The People vs. O.J. Simpson, John Travolta may be churning out the best work of his career.
There will be (and already are) some who will dismiss the film because its humor is at odds with its darker material. Truth be told, those people would readily dismiss the film all the same if it was a traditional revenge pic. Thankfully, Ti West (who could easily make a traditional genre pic in his sleep) has made something far more unique, interesting and entertaining.
In a Valley of Violence is a very specific cocktail that works because of what and how certain elements of storytelling are employed. Most of the film’s characters are morons, unequipped to deal with the hand they have been dealt and completely out of their element. There’s immeasurable entertainment to be taken from watching people out of their element get completely obliterated. And believe me, people get obliterated. West hasn’t lost his talent with bloodshed. Combine that with a moving emotional undercurrent, and you’ve got yourself a mighty fine western.