In a year where Hollywood is trying very hard to resurrect the star studded Western once more, Ti West comes along and casts Ethan Hawke in one of the most simplistic love letters to the sub-genre ever filmed. “In a Valley of Violence” doesn’t so much have a narrative as it has a string of events that coincide with one another, leading in to a chain of revenge, violence, and death. Ethan Hawke’s character isn’t a hero, and John Travolta’s character isn’t entirely villainous, they’re both pushed in to unfortunate corners. It then becomes a bunch of scoundrels striking one another down thanks to the actions of one individual who sets up a huge string of events that slam in to one another in bloody chaos. Ethan Hawke stars as enigmatic Paul, a lone drifter who has only his side arms, his horse, and his loyal dog Abbey by his side.
After traveling through the desert, he arrives in a small town named Denton looking for a quick drink. He is unlucky enough to stumble in to a local saloon where young hot head Gilly is attempting to intimidate the customers, including a traveling gun salesman. He then crosses paths with Paul, who refuses to be intimidated by Gilly’s threats. After Gilly makes his way for Paul’s dog Abbey, the two fight in the town square causing a conflict of interest in town between Paul and the marshal, as played by John Travolta. Even though Paul is warned to leave, Gilly decides to deliver his own pay back, Paul barely survives. Paul then set out on a dark journey of revenge on Gilly and his cronies even while still being haunted by his days in the Civil War. Director Ti West knows exactly what he’s doing, doling out a very original and unique opening credits scene, and telling a very vicious revenge tale about a man who has very little in his life taken away so horribly.
“In a Valley of Violence” is one part “Unforgiven,” and one part “John Wick” with a dash of a slasher movie. When Paul goes back in to Denton, it’s clear he has to act as something of a ghost. In many ways he might just be a ghost to the folks that set off the events in the desert the night before. The biggest power of “In a Valley of Violence” is within the supporting cast, all of whom are remarkable. James Ransone is despicable as villain Gilly, while John Travolta is memorable as the worn and exhausted Marshal who anxiously tries to snuff out Paul’s quest for revenge before people begin dying. Taissa Farmiga is a stand out as Mary Anne, the only pure individual in Denton who is stuck in her situation overlooking a hotel with her lazy sister Ellen. Farmiga, as usual steals nearly every scene as the young girl who finds potential to escape as she forms a subtly sweet relationship with Paul. Eventually, like everyone else, she’s drawn in to the grudge match between him and the Gilly.
Director West plays with elements that are unlikely and unusual and they manage to come together in to what is a very entertaining and violent tale of revenge, and the fall out that comes from revenge. Hawke is such an unusual choice for the role of a drifter with a history of violence, but he handles the role brilliantly and plays off of Taissa Farmiga’s unorthodox charm and beauty brilliantly. I hope director Ti West breaks out of the norms more often in the future, and continues to reconstruct classic cinema as a means of offering up cinema that’s both compelling and completely different. “In a Valley of Violence” is a wonderful western with that distinct flavor Ti West injects in all of his films, and it’s definitely one of the finest films of the year.