This is a film that oozes with the many facets of So. Cal culture.
A Director's Commentary with Edward Norton and David Jacobson would have been really nice.
As a big fan of Edward Norton, I don't think he could make a film that I wouldn't see, simply because the choices he makes as an actor are highly interesting. So when I got a chance to review Down in the Valley, I grabbed it. Ultimately, this film is everything that I expected it would be. The tale of cowboy Harlan Fairfax Carruthers (Edward Norton) is one that begins like a fairy tale, and then slowly unravels into a nightmare in which Harlan's girl Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), her brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin), and their father Wade (David Morse) are all victims. Harlan himself is a victim and what seems like a well worn tale of lovers that can't be together, soon shows us that there's much more below the surface. Our inclinations that something isn't right is the theme that runs through this whole movie, yet it's how we get there that sets David Jacobson's "Valley Tale" apart.
What really grabbed me about this film is that I live in Orange County. I live in a northern region that isn't on a beach like we always see on film and tv. Well, Fountain Valley (where I live), looks a lot like San Fernando (where this film is set). Very few people I know see this area as anything more than homes and strip malls; anywhere USA as people call it. Jacobson seems to be looking beyond that, showing us streets and shops in the same way that we would see lush vistas. The fact that Harlan seems to be a cowboy out of time, blends in quite well with the themes in this film.
These are all together in one chunk and they are broken up by title cards. I have to admit that deleted scenes for a film like this are sort of a downer. I feel this way because the characters are so rich, and these scenes do nothing but add layers. It's a shame that David Jacobson couldn't have released a longer film, because I think what we get here adds many dimensions. The first scene in particular with Lonnie, really casts an interesting light on who this character is.
Q&A with David Jacobson and Edward Norton
Peter Travers from Rolling Stone magazine conducts this interview and when he lets his subjects talk he's great. Overall, this discussion isn't too pretentious as Jacobson discusses how he came up with this film idea, Norton talks about how be became attached to the project, the characters in the film, and how Down in the Valley is very much a product of a specific place. Norton hits it right on the head when he says that this movie "looks at how we are living."
16:9 Widescreen Presentation. This film is a western shot in a suburb of California. I cannot tell you how much I like that. Jacobson's style is such that it never lingers like other kinds of independent films. It isn't filled with moments of indifference, only to then beat us over the head at the end. It actually tells a story but it does it by focusing on the beauty of the images at hand.
5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. 2.0 Stereo. Close Captioned. Spanish Subtitles. When this film started, I thought I was going to be getting some Mississippi John Hurt. Sadly, this movie was filled with country music done by people who probably don't live in the country. When the soundtrack was just music, I really liked the orchestrations that had been put together. I am just not a fan of what I call "college rock country."
Edward Norton brandishing a gun and an almost heavenly picture of Evan Rachel Wood take up the right portion of this DVD cover. There is even an orange, gold tint that captures the major tone of this film. The back features some small shots of from this movie, an artfully done image of Wood on a hillside, a description of Down in the Valley, a DVD Features/technical specs listing, and a cast list.
I honestly think that Down in the Valley is the kind of movie that is meant to be watched more than once. It isn't that it's confusing, but you have four performances that aren't really in support of each other in a classic way. In fact, the actions of all the main characters seem different depending in your perspective in the film. Also, depending on where you are in your life, you could possibly side with different characters in different viewings. For example, if you have ever lost a girl to guy like Harlan, you might side with Wade. Conversely, if you are a teenage girl who dreams of someone like Harlan coming into your life, you could see this movie from Tobe's perspective. Then about about the 3/4 mark, that's when all your assumptions and preconceived notions must be called into perspective.
Down in the Valley is the kind of movie that is rightly called an art film, but it is called one in the most affectionate way. A movie like this is a work of art.
Down in the Valley was released May 13, 2005.