Horror fans know director Ti West for his cult-classic horror film The House of the Devil, as well as V/H/S, The Innkeepers and The Sacrament.
His latest, starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta, is a major departure: In a Valley of Violence is a capable, full-on homage to Sergio Leone Westerns.
Hawke plays Paul, a drifter who finds himself in a frontier ghost town with few remaining inhabitants. He and his dog immediately get into trouble with Gilly (James Ransone), the son of the town marshal (Travolta). Bad things transpire (think John Wick set in the old Wild West), and Paul sets out for revenge. The resulting gunfights are nicely staged, accentuated by good work from Hawke, Travolta and Ransone.
While Hawke is always reliable these days, Travolta’s film career has been on a bit of downslide (one of several his career has endured). His performance here as a semi-crooked lawman with a small streak of decency is actually funny at times, and is his best work in a film in more than five years. (It must be noted that he was also quite good as Robert Shapiro in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.)
The film’s biggest surprise is Taissa Farmiga, who provides solid comic relief as a fast-talking hotel operator.
West does admirable work in the Western genre. The movie doesn’t feel all that original or groundbreaking, but it does look good and has some solid acting, plus it mixes in some nice dark, humor for an overall good time.
In a Valley of Violence is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033). It is also available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.