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"Down In The Valley"

Genre: Drama/Romance
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.

Movie Review:

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.

To 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”.

With 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).

Harlan’s 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.

[But 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.]

Therefore, 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.

Her 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).

Of 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.

As 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 to discard.

The 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.

“Down 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.

Honestly, “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.

But 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.

Movie Rating:

(Loneliness can be potent, especially when mixed with attraction, misplaced trust and thereafter, a growing sense of unstoppable longing)

Review by Casandra Wong


. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

. The Painted Veil (2006)

. The Illusionist (2006)

. Little Miss Sunshine (2006

. The King (2005)

. Pretty Persuasion (2005)



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