The place of the Western in 2017: Ti West's In A Valley Of Violence


The fact that the Western is a genre intensely linked to the state of play in American culture, sociology and theology is a statement approaching cliche. The discussion of the modern place of genre entrants is inseparable from its roots in (predominantly) white American expansion and the pejorative meaning of 'the American way'.

In one of the latest entrants to the genre, director Ti West shows an awareness of what the genre can consider. Like many of his contemporary forebears though, West doesn't seem to know exactly what the Western has to say today. In A Valley Of Violence proves both that the genre is alive (or at least present) and confirms that it has largely said all it has to say.

We begin with Paul (Ethan Hawke), happening across a luckless priest (Burn Gorman) swigging from a whiskey bottle. After a predictable encounter where Paul and canine companion Abby prove their metal, Paul makes it to Denton where the ridiculous Gilly (James Ransone) 'rules' the roost like a fratboy banker on coke.

Gilly, though overplayed wildly by Ransone, is more or less the sole new idea when it comes to contemporary relevance. Surely destined to be played by Ben Foster had he not gone on to bigger and better things, the character treats his woman (a wasted Karen Gillan) terribly, brags to his friends without substance and is both criticised and humoured by his father (John Travolta) in equal measure. It's a nice idea, but Ransone's execution leaves something to be desired and the character lacks the menace you need in an antagonist.

The film is then notable in the minor sense for the ideas it has which have been considered better elsewhere, though still with fairly little genre progression.

The apex of the film turns at around the halfway point. The sequence itself is unremarkable, featuring as it does a predictable death and a decision by Ransone which passes Bond-villain-stupid and makes it to Scooby-Doo-lazy. At that point though, West gives himself half a film to carry out the titular violence. Open Range has done this. Open Range has also done this significantly better. West shoots and choreographs with little flair and Eric Robbins' photography is a long way from, say, Robert Richardson's work on The Hateful Eight, even allowing for the latter's much-hailed non-digital approach.

West, best known for his work in the Horror genre, bring elements of that to the finale but, again, he's been beaten to the punch recently. Bone Tomahawk is a genuinely nasty Western/Horror cross that really goes for the grisly elements, and follows through with character moments that fit. West settles for a few close-ups of bloodied people and a heightening of the strings in Jeff Grace's already too-obvious score.

On the plus side, when the script is lazily having Hawke explain backstory by way of talking to Abby, there's some really great work from Travolta. Though now mainly appearing in forgettable tumbleweed and awkward red carpet encounters, the veteran reminds us that he has the gravitas Ransone is lacking and the smart delivery to make rapid fire delivery sing. Apart from a disappointingly low-key conclusion, he elevates West's film whenever he is on screen.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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