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Down in the Valley

Film Two Stars

Down in the Valley caught my attention when I heard about the plot. A man who may once have been a cowboy returns to the city and starts a relationship with a much younger woman. It starred an impressive cast with Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse and Bruce Dern, and the poster had me intrigued as it showed Norton in cowboy gear complete with pistols.

It seemed such a bizarre mix of ideas, and yet that wasn't the issue with this film.

DownintheValley_Poster.jpgThe hardest thing I found about this movie were the lingering shots of background noise or as a forewarning of the next scene. For instance we would see a lingering shot of some long grass, and the next scene would have the couple on a horse trot through a field. A moment later would follow a lingering shot of some water, then the horse would arrive at a watering hole.

The movie was filled with these shots, it was apparent that the scene and mood were being set as well as showing us the sprawling city against the open fields, the dichotomy of the cowboy in the city, or the contrast of the open fields against rows of billboards and powerlines, etc, etc. Yet I found myself becoming frustrated at the pace of the story and willing it to pick up.

It does feel overly long as a movie, and the relationship that is built in the first half of the film is utterly convincing and real, but does seem to carry on a little too long. It did feel as though the characters should have developed a little quicker once the bond between them was established. Yet the time spent in developing the relationship and making the audience feel this bond does pay off later in the film.

Looking back on it there does feel like there's opportunity for a harsher edit, but I would be scared that this might affect the belief and strength of understanding of the love, desire and need between the two main characters. If this could be retained I do feel that another edit could make this film much more enjoyable.

The performances are what stand out, they are quite strong, and although you might expect Norton to be the better and more intense actor, it actually turns out to be Morse who gives the most screen grabbing and magnetic performance in the film. Wood is also very strong, and although it's the first film I've seen her in, I'd really rate her highly as an actress. She gave a thoroughly convincing performance, and one that equally drew me to her character. There were some stilted and awkward moments early on, but that keeps perfectly with her character who really begins to feel at ease with herself as she finds her womanhood with Norton's character.

Throughout the film Norton's character slips few times, and it's here that I noticed how well his character is written, acted and brought to the screen. These small moments have the potential to be overplayed, but they are kept very quiet and the slips are just enough to make you wonder about the character, rather than leaping into an over the top scene.

Rory Culkin is good, although his character does do little and monotones and grunts his way through the film as any dysfunctional teen would. It's the little moments where he begins to show some interest in life that you see what he could be capable of, as he flashes a little interest but keeps it restrained. Much like with Norton's character.

The latter half of the film picks up pace and tension, coming to an unusual and somewhat satisfying conclusion, yet it was marred with the inclusion of the most bizarre coincidence I've seen in a script, when the horse rides into the ghost town and the two wake up in the morning. I shall say no more, other than it just seemed a surreal joke and totally jarred me out of the movie so that I was merely watching, rather than engaged in the story.

Overall I'm not entirely sure I know what this film was trying to say. There are things to be gained from it around family and trust, theres also something about coming of age and a strong sense of self belief, self worth and of knowing who you really are...yet these all seem like secondary understandings and personally I couldn't find what it was trying to get through to me. However the performances are very good, the relationship between the leads very real with some amazing chemistry, and some of the shots are well framed. It is an unusual tale, and I can see that in being in the mood for a more artistic film I would have enjoyed it more, yet it still needed a stronger edit and a slightly faster pace.


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