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With: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan, James Ransone, Burn Gorman, Toby Huss, Larry Fessenden, K. Harrison Sweeney, Tommy Nohilly
Written by: Ti West
Directed by: Ti West
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 104
Date: 10/21/2016

In a Valley of Violence (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Down Dog

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The superior horror director Ti West adapts his skills to a new genre, the Western, and comes up with a simple revenge-based film, sun-baked in his singular style, with plenty of amusing, amazing touches. With its big, red opening credits sequence and Jeff Grace's thumping, thundering score, In a Valley of Violence is clearly inspired by Sergio Leone, but ultimately feels more like a tense, economic "B" movie -- in the tradition of Budd Boetticher, Sam Fuller, Joseph H. Lewis, and Andre de Toth -- than it does a sprawling epic.

In a Valley of Violence has ex-soldier Paul (Ethan Hawke) traveling with his faithful dog, having sworn off killing and simply hoping to get to Mexico to live a quiet life. He makes the mistake of stopping for water in a dismal little town called Denton, where he meets a pretty, young hotel clerk, Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga), and has a run in with the local bully, Gilly (James Ransone). Paul beats Gilly in a fair fight and, after a stern lecture by Gilly's father, Marshal Clyde Martin (John Travolta), he's on his way. But when Gilly and his men brutally attack Paul in the desert, he vows revenge. He heads back into town, without a plan, and most certainly facing a fierce fight. Will Paul go through with his revenge, and will he survive?

As with his great horror films The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, West favors a slow-burn technique, spending time watching the characters talking or simply being before moving ahead. This allows for many unexpected moments of humor, or surprising moments of violence. (A war-related flashback/nightmare reveals West's horror roots.) It also allows for a rounded performance by Ethan Hawke (the gunslinger of the year, also in The Magnificent Seven), perfect as a stoic loner, and a fun one by John Travolta as a wise, cautious lawman with a wooden leg. And, though women rarely figure much into this genre, Taissa Farmiga is delightfully chattery and headstrong. The plot recalls many films, especially, almost note-for-note, John Wick, but West makes this movie all his own, and a worthy addition to a classic genre.

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