Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Films Watched 2013: #4

Down in the Valley (2005)

Summer in the San Fernando Valley and seventeen-year-old Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) is heading to the beach with her girlfriends when she meets thirty-something cowboy Harlan (Ed Norton) at the gas station. Instinctively she asks him to join them and he does, quitting his job on the spot. An idyllic day leads to sex and soon Harlan is being introduced to Tobe's father Wade (David Morse) and younger brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin). The romance is immediate and intense, Tobe fascinated by the novelty of Harlan, his country charm and simple philosophy. He's like something from a movie. Harlan, for his part, can't believe his luck, that this pretty girl has latched onto him. She's like a fate foretold, the key to another life. But Wade, a law enforcement officer, is suspicious of Harlan straight away. He tries to control his daughter but she rebels. Soon though, Harlan's inability to tell reality from fantasy becomes clearer and things escalate dangerously. For much of the way Down in the Valley is a peach of a film, romantic, complex, with a 70s feel for ordinary lives, long summer days and the twilight glow of taillights as evening traffic floods the valley. The direction is confident, the acting uniformly fine, especially Norton, who gives one of his best performances here, part Travis Bickle, part Joe Buck (Midnight Cowboy). Unfortunately the film becomes less convincing in the last third, straining too hard for symbolism, spelling out the cowboy/modern world, fantasy/reality clashes too literally. It isn't a disaster but the realism and emotional truth built up are sacrificed for the sake of plot. While Harlan thought he was in a western it was okay, but when the film thinks it is too that's when it loses its way. Still an underrated film, I think, certainly one that deserves better reviews than it got at the time.

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