|Image courtesy of Focus World.|
As the picture opens, Ethan Hawke (who has become a surprisingly able western hero) rides through a small desert town in the 1800s carrying with him several secrets about his past and a beloved dog named Abbie. He quickly runs afoul of the local marshal's son (James Ransone) and his pals, which then leads to a confrontation in the desert night after Hawke has left town. A tragedy occurs and Hawke is left for dead. He then drags his way back into town to make war with Ransone and his buddies as well as the marshal (John Travolta), who appears to want to avoid a showdown.
From the twangy score to the anti-hero character that Hawke portrays, it's obvious that "In a Valley of Violence" aims to be a throwback to the bloody and cheaply made spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 1970s. But while the film is occasionally fun, it hews a little too closely to formula and cliches of the genre.
Hawke gives a solid performance as the roaming loner who has abandoned his family and, possibly, the Civil War in which he was a soldier and just wants to cross the Mexican border. The rest of the performances are more scattershot, which may be a fault of the filmmakers rather than the cast. Often, characters' speech sounds more modern than it should and several characters shout most of their dialogue, which often veers from being humorous to grating.
West is a solid horror movie director. His "House of the Devil" is among the creepier and moodier offerings of the past decade and his other work displays his capability of making small budgets go a long way at getting solid scares. "In a Valley of Violence" is an attempt at trying a different genre and it often works, mostly because of Hawke and that a certain amount of cliche tends to be forgiven in the western genre. But while it does a decent job of capturing some of the elements of the spaghetti western, it doesn't quite rise to the level of the best that sub-genre had to offer.