DATELINE: Nouveau Spaghetti
Dog, Horse, & Hawke
A throwback to the old fashioned spaghetti westerns of a generation ago, starring Clint and Lee Van Cleef, In a Valley of Violence echoes the style and demeanor in its characters.
This one is strictly American, filmed in New Mexico, with Ethan Hawke, growing older and wearier enough to play the laconic antihero. His fierce enemy is rather compromising and solicitous, a federal marshal played by John Travolta.
The real impetus for the film is the dog Jumpy, playing Abbie, to whom the protagonist is hopelessly devoted. Shades of John Wick last year. We know what happened when the bad guys killed his dog.
Taking a detour to seek vengeance, Ethan Hawke returns to Denton, a well-kept town of no visible means of support. It is under the control of its marshal, a town boss and self-anointed leader. Worse is his sadistic son, in a marvelous performance by James Ransome as Gilly.
Westerns are a tough chestnut to crack nowadays, and we always look forward to a good one emerging. This film by Ti West features animals and their totem power to good and bad guys, which is admirable.
Of course, once the protagonist begins to payback those who done him wrong, there is no recourse. Like Shane strapping on his guns, Ethan Hawke is wearily forced to finish the story.
The revenge is not particularly grisly by modern standards, nor particularly inventive, but the production is solid and Westerns fan will be satisfied with man’s inhumanity to dog.