In a Valley of Violence 2016 Review

Directed by: Ti West

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, John Travolta, Karen Gillan, James Ransone, Burn Gorman

1hr 44min Rated R

“They left me with nothing, I’m gonna leave them with less.”

That’s a damn good line for a western and probably my favorite of the film. Somehow I was unaware of this movie until seeing it on Netflix the other day. Honestly my first thought was “John Travolta in a western? I have to see how this is.” (Urban Cowboy doesn’t count as a western). 

Valley of Violence is an underrated revenge story that is fun to watch for fans of the western genre. Unkown to me until I started watching: the film is a love letter to spaghetti westerns of old – the flashy opening credits are directly inspired from Clint Eastwood classics such as The Good the Bad and the Ugly.

The music is also reminiscent of legendary composer Ennio Morricone and at times does a respectable job of mimicking the style, especially the main theme.

I loved the main town set for this movie as well. It felt like it could have been pulled right out of one of Eastwood’s films and I really enjoyed that level of detail.

As others have already said, this movie’s premise is without a doubt a western version of John Wick. Ethan Hawke plays a former soldier trying to escape his past along with his only friend, a dog Abbie. They end up angering the son of corrupt sheriff of a backwater town…and you can fill in the blanks for there. The main plot points are so similar I can even imagine how the studio pitch went in my head; “let’s make John Wick…but as a spaghetti western!” For the most part it works nicely, but a word a caution: because of the genre, this movie is much slower paced than Wick. Thats not a criticism, however it needs to be said to set expectations.

Westerns in general seem to be a good fit for Hawke. Not only did I enjoy his performance here as a type of “man with no name” character but also 2016’s The Magnificent Seven as the ex-confederate marksman Goodnight Robicheaux. His latest is 2019’s The Kid which I’m now adding to my watch list having enjoyed the previous two roles.

John Travolta was entertaining enough as the crooked sheriff. I do think they could have spent just a bit more time actually showing how bad this guy is. It’s mentioned a couple times during the movie but you don’t see much of it in action so he really only comes across as a lousy father and lawman. 

I’m undecided on how I feel about James Ransone’s Gilly as the main antagonist. I was hoping the film would start with him and then pivot to Travolta being the larger issue for Hawke’s character to deal with. Unfortunately that was not the case. Gilly is just an idiot with daddy issues but Ransone does play the part well at least. 

It’s worth mentioning that Karen Gillan has a small role here as Gilly’s fiancée. She does a great job with what she’s given and its nice to see her in something other than Guardians or Jumanji.

One final note is there’s a surprising amount of dry humor throughout the movie. It feels organic to whatever is going on in the scene so it never overloads the revenge plot.

In a Valley of Violence is a solid western throwback from a couple years ago that’s still worth watching today.

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