Ti West has made a name for himself in the horror genre since the release of The Roost in 2005. Now he’s stepping outside the genre with, of all things, a western, In A Valley of Violence. And it’s a straight up western, no hints of Native American curses or dead cowboys returned for vengeance. He takes a big chance by stepping so far away from what’s worked for him, but thankfully it pays off with an entertaining, if familiar, film.
Paul (Ethan Hawke) a Civil War deserter is on his way to Mexico along with his dog Abby when he stops in the dried up former boom town of Denton for supplies. Running afoul of Deputy Gilly Martin (James Ransone) and his buddies Harris (Toby Huss), Tubby (Tommy Nohilly), and Roy (Larry Fessenden) and forced into a public fist fight, he humiliates Gilly by dropping him with one punch. Gilly immediately tells Sheriff Clyde Martin (John Travolta) who happens to be his father, that there’s somebody in town stirring shit up. The sheriff is smart enough to realize the situation and what kind of a man Paul is and lets matters drop as long as he promises to get out of Dodge, err Denton, and never return. This doesn’t sit well with Gilly and his friends who follow him and attack him in his sleep. Abbey is killed and Paul left for dead. Of course this calls for revenge, violent, bloody revenge.
In many ways resembling John Wick as directed by Sergio Leone, In A Valley of Violence was apparently was in production before the other film’s release. The similarities are considerable though, a man of violence trying to live a quiet life is targeted by the violent son of a powerful man and ends up left for dead and his dog killed. The father berates the son for what he did and tries to defuse the situation but it all ends up in a bloody climax.
Apart from West’s direction the film benefits from solid acting from Hawke, Fessenden, Travolta, (in one of his best roles in ages) and Taissa Farmiga as an abandoned child bride who’s one of the few townspeople to stand with Paul. And I should give a mention to Jumpy, the border collie/blue healer mix that plays Abbey, they give such a winning performance you really want to see her killers suffer.
The western seems to be undergoing a bit of a resurgence in the wake of Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight and this is certainly one of the better ones. Given a token theatrical release before being put out on VOD and DVD/Blu Ray In A Valley of Violence deserved a proper theatrical run, it had the potential to be at least a minor hit.