Ti West's In a Valley of Violence is a pulp western steeped in classic archetypes. It's more Quentin Tarantino than Sergio Leone, bloody and brutal with snappy dialogue. Producer Jason Blum, king of micro-budget horror films, shows that he's got a little sand in his craw with this effort. The set-up is simple, really as straightforward as it gets; but the execution is damned entertaining. You just never mess with a man's dog, a mantra to live by on and off screen.
The setting is Denton, a God forsaken one-street town nestled in a border valley. A loner (Ethan Hawke) and his clever pooch are making their way to Mexico. He gets warned by a drunken preacher (Burn Gorman) to steer clear, but heads on into Denton anyway. He runs afoul of an upstart braggart (James Ransone) and his lawman father (John Travolta). A stop for whiskey and supplies quickly turns into a hellish pit of danger. His only ally, a fetching and rambunctious girl (Taissa Farmiga), chomping at the bit to get away herself.
In a Valley of Violence gives depth to characters that could have easily been cardboard cutouts. You have the mysterious stranger, corrupt sheriff, winsome girl, desperate for a better life; these are standards in all westerns. The difference here is that West has made them believable. This script adds complexity to the archetypes. I particularly liked the interaction with John Travolta and Ethan Hawke. Travolta's sheriff is no fool. He understands what his son is, and the incredible danger Hawke's character can bring to their tiny fiefdom. West gets top marks for taking a tried and true storyline to a higher place.
Taissa Farmiga, the much younger sister of Vera Farmiga, is tremendous here. She holds her own and then some in a deep ensemble. Female roles in westerns are usually rote and sexist. Her character is bright, intelligent, and desperately lonely in a horrible place. She needs companionship, but is not and never will be easily gotten. Ti West's interpretation of his female players is much like that of legendary Lonesome Dove writer, Larry McMurtry. Women were trapped by circumstance and vile men. Their options were limited. They made the best of bad situations. Farmiga embodies this with a firebrand disposition.
Coming from Focus World and Blumhouse, In a Valley of Violence is a must see for any western fan. It's a small, character driven film, but certainly action packed, as its title clearly states. The acting is first rate with a sharp screenplay and outstanding direction by Ti West. The film has been in the can for a while. I believe the producers were waiting to release it after Antoine Fuqua's Magnificent Seven remake, which also stars Ethan Hawke. I gave Magnificent Seven a middling, positive review. In a Valley of Violence is far superior. Theaters will be harder to find in smaller markets, but will be available on demand. See this movie. You will be entertained.