2001-2010ArthouseDavid JacobsonDramaUSA

David Jacobson – Down in the Valley (2005)

“Down In The Valley is the ideal project for Jacobson, who has already shown his affinity for marginalized, outlaw figures in Criminal (1994) and Dahmer (2002). His Harlan – part rootless romantic, part self-reliant individualist, part gun-toting fantasist, part self-appointed hero, part deluded psychotic – is the embodiment of the American Dream in all its schizophrenic contradictions; and by serving all at once as critique of, homage to, and requiem for, the nostalgic values that Harlan tries to uphold, Jacobson’s film dramatises the powerful hold that the cowboy myth continues to exercise, both as a genre and as a wider ideology, over the modern American psyche.

Down In The Valley is also a throwback to the golden age of 1970s cinema, when heroes were anti-heroes, messages were mixed, and character was king. Norton puts in an assured performance, managing to retain the viewer’s sympathy even as his suburban cowboy rides out from his initially sweet romance with Tobe to the darker filmic territories of Taxi Driver (1976) and Dear Wendy (2005).”

“The Western as allegory has been utilized to great effect in American film. From representing a lost idea as in the opening scenes of The Right Stuff to Near Dark’s outlaw vampires, the fundamentals of Old West theology are probably older than the timeline itself. It’s why the western will remain the only fully true American genre; continuing to inspire storytellers long after cowboy hats and spurs has been wiped from the planet. Writer/director David Jacobson wants to instill a feeling of the simpler (if still violent) times with Down in the Valley, but foregoes the mythos and passion resulting in a methodically paced, muddled examination of yet another potential burgeoning psycho on his resume of anti-heroes.”

“The title of David Jacobson’s drama evokes the open plains and frontier simplicity of a folk song. The valley that it refers to, San Fernando, is anything but. In indistinct suburbs and generic city streets on the outskirts of Los Angeles, restless teenager Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) is on hormonal overdrive, petulant and angry in every exchange with stepdad Wade (David Morse).

Younger brother Lon (Rory Culkin) is a nervous loner who is still afraid of the dark. You can feel Wade’s discomfort in the role of single-father figure to two teenage kids in every broken conversation. No one speaks of the absent mother and the silence defines every awkward moment and emotional scuff.

Into Tobe’s need strolls Harlan Carruthers (Edward Norton), a drawling cowboy with an easygoing acceptance and a romantic sweetness. His aura of confidence and authenticity is so seductive to both Tobe and Lon that they never question this “crazy cowboy” in Los Angeles.

Norton also was a producer on the film and you can see his attraction to the angry, alienated figure who turns ferocious when his comforting identity is threatened by his past. Norton brings conviction to the role as his fantasy life escalates from play-acting cowboy movies in his apartment to going Travis Bickle with increasingly hostile monologues played with a mirror and a Colt .45.

The film is thrown off balance by the weight of Norton’s compassion for this troubled soul, shifted from the troubled relationship of the frayed family unraveled by Harlan’s influence to his private psychodrama. Each revelation only makes him more of an enigma than a character, while the more dramatically volatile story of family crisis and emotional hesitancy is left in this urban cowboy’s dust.”

1.1GB | 1h 47m | 716×428 | mkv



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