Directed by: David Jacobson.
Starring: Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, Rory Culkin.
It happens all the time, you get a film that has a quality in its first and second acts and then something throws it off in the third....Down in the Valley is no exception.
The story is set in modern day San Fernando Valley in LA, a young girl named Tobe (short for October) takes a trip to the beach with her friends and stops off at the local gas station, only to meet an out-of-place cowboy named Harlan from South Dakota. She has a sudden connection with him and invites him along and there love for each other starts to grow. When Tobe's overbearing father refuses her to see him, Harlan does what he can to get her and her little brother away from their father and we start to learn about who Harlan really is. From the first frame, I was gripped. Although it did seem to have a certain predictability about it and it does raise common themes, the film builds character and ideas with such skill. We are shown the Valley quite simply, with its 5-10 lanes on the busy roads and landing planes overhead, its a normal little American town. From here, what hit the note with me, was the characters. In the vain of 'Taxi Driver' (but of course, not as complex), we are given Harlan Curruthers. He is a cowboy, or at least, he believes he is one....what gives us that idea is that he not always there mentally and he has a strange innocence like a child who hasn't quite grown up. Themes are raised brilliantly, how someone so out of place can adapt to a different world, but also his kindness and skill adapts well right away. There is a little love story in the vain of 'Fatal Attraction' to be had, but it has that sweet innocence of any young love. There are so many qualities to these characters and ideas that are raised that I loved, that I was shocked to see the sudden change. As the third act approaches, it can't keep itself cohesive or engaging. A sudden change in tone occurs and an overpowering homage to Westerns that isn't needed (A gunfight in a small western town....thats a film set of all things) pulls it down. The acting though is another great quality. Edward Norton gives a lot of charisma to the role as he always does and a considerable amount of depth and range to this dysfunctional soul, it isn't as impressive as his earlier roles, but he still leads. Evan Rachel Wood is an impressive young actress and adapts to the changes of feeling with her character. Rory Culkin is picking up more roles by the year and is building a presence and David Morse is superb as the overbearing father, who not only tries to love his kids, but has his mind away on other things and doesn't realize how far he goes. There's an intensity and caring in David's eyes that are perfect for this role.
Down in the Valley has the vibe of such classics as 'Taxi Driver' and 'Fatal Attraction' with a tinge of western flair and it really could have been the little cousin of those films, but when director David Jacobson decides to homage westerns and shift the tone on both the film and lead character too much in the third act, its bog down the high qualities the film had going for it. I certainly give it a solid 4 stars for the first 2 acts, but the third act takes it down a notch for me. Definitely worth a watch but be prepared for the shift in tone towards the end.