Director: David Jacobson
Cast: Edward Norton, Elizabeth Peña,
Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, Rory Culkin, Bruce Dern, Ellen
Burstyn, Elizabeth Pena, Muse Watson
RunTime: 1 hr 54 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Sexual Scenes)
Official Website: http://www.downinthevalleyfilm.com/
Siblings Lonnie and Tobe live at the edge of the bleeding
sprawl of the San Fernando Valley. One day, a mysterious horseman
strolls into their lives. With his folksy-naïve manner
and cowboy garb, Harlan Fairfax Carruthers initially evokes
a bemused "Are you for real?" from one of their
friends. But to Lonnie and Tobe, Harlan's alien behavior seems
to be exactly what they need. Director David Jacobson brings
a fresh perspective to the city and the ways it functions
as a locus of both hopeful reinvention and dark violence.
Enrique Chediak's' anamorphic widescreen cinematography uses
the striking juxtapositions of the San Fernando Valley, where
the Interstate brushes up against what little is left of the
Wild West, to both comic and poignant effect. Remarkable central
performances from Edward Norton and a revelatory Evan Rachel
Wood cement "Down in the Valley" as both a classic
American movie and a thoroughly independent vision.
Edward Norton, a talented thespian who has been long lauded
for his brilliant character-driven performances, is no stranger
to playing multi-faceted and mentally challenging roles.
prove my point: He started out his acting career in “Primal
Fear” as a shy, seemingly innocent altar boy with a
stutter, convicted of a murder he claims he can’t remember.
Turns out that he’s actually a scheming sociopath with
a disarming charm. NEAT. For that, Norton earned an Academy
Award nomination. Since then, he has played a disillusioned,
self-mocking white-collared worker in the infamous “Fight
Club”, a reformed skinhead in “American History
X”, a menacing and vengeful illusionist in “The
Illusionist“ (duh!), and more recently, a scientist
who harbours a destructive and angry green beast within him
in “The Incredible Hulk”.
this much experience on his plate, it is really not wrong
for me to say that he’s perfect for the role of Harlan,
the lead in the indie flick, “Down in the Valley”
(in which Norton is a producer of as well).
drifter/rebel image and penchant for anything Western –
from the signature swagger, cowboy getup to his Southern twang
– initially lends him an air of suave mystery.
of course, as watching any Norton vehicle has taught us (or
rather, me): never judge a book by its cover, trouble brews
just around the corner.]
it’s no surprise that he captures the affections of
Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), a rebellious, sexually charged yet
naïve teenage nymphet whose appetite for adventure and
belonging is a potential catalyst for tragedy.
younger, impressionable brother, Lonnie –played by the
incredibly gifted Rory Culkin -, is likewise entrapped by
Harlan, who subsequently teaches the kid how to shoot a Colt
.45 (an alarming sign that Harlan is slightly… whacked
in the head).
course, their sheriff father (David Morse), whose line of
work teaches him a thing or two about … suspicious men,
vehemently disapproves of their unhealthy association with
Harlan, and forces Tobe to break off with him.
the movie progresses, we come to witness evidence of deep-seated,
seething trouble brewing in Harlan, uncovered to be a dismal
man-child playing make-believe in a life he desperately tries
movie climaxes with a bang literally– or more accurately,
a few bangs -, in an inevitable confrontation between Harlan
and Tobe’s father on, ironically, the set of a Western
movie in which Harlan’s make-believe becomes a distorted
reality and fight that ends tragically and yet, fittingly.
in the Valley” is as straightforward and real as it
gets. No tricks, no 3D effects, and mainly resting on two
things frankly quite amiss in movies that are made these days:
a solid script and the shoulders of the talented cast, all
of whom gave award-winning performances (I must say, extremely
good casting on their part!). Especially Norton, who I swear
is a chameleon in a human body. He gives an astounding and
seamlessly convincing performance, so much so that it actually
becomes difficult to see him as anyone else, but Harlan even
after the movie is long over. Morse also earns points for
capturing the essence of a single father struggling to understand
and protect his children, and the vindictiveness of a single-minded
man hell-bent on vengeance regardless of. Last but not least,
director and screenwriter David Jacobson’s masterpiece
is without a doubt, a continual testimony to his exceptional
storytelling and imagination.
“Down in the Valley” is not the kind of movie
I recommend to viewers who want to relax and let loose after
a long, hard day at work or for families on a restless weekend,
because… well, it’s depressing and uncomfortably
harsh. However, coming from Jacobson, whose previous works
include “Dahmer” (2002), a piece about a homosexual
serial killer who partakes in necrophilia and cannibalism,
this is actually pretty… light.
for people looking for something poignant and moving, watch
this. It teaches us to take heed of the fragility and sometimes,
cruelty embedded in human nature - a poetic feat of a message
some movies try but fail to bring across.
(Loneliness can be potent, especially when mixed with attraction,
misplaced trust and thereafter, a growing sense of unstoppable
Review by Casandra Wong