Down in the Valley

UK release date: 26 May 2006

cast list

Edward Norton
Evan Rachel Wood
Rory Culkin
David Morse

directed by
David Jacobson
Edward Norton is a busy man. Since American History X and Fight Club powered him to superstardom he has been living the celebrity high life, and he’s recently set up what must be every actor’s fantasy: a production company.

Class 5 Films, formed in conjunction with his brother, is all set to churn out movies produced by, written by, directed by and starring Edward Norton though presumably he’s happy to let someone else do the make-up.

With already three in the pipeline and an impressive number of side projects and charitable causes ongoing, he’s one of Hollywood’s most talented actors nearing his productive peak.

The first movie to come galloping out of Class 5’s stable is Down in the Valley, which Norton co-produces and stars in. For reasons I cannot fathom, the press release claims it’s a crime drama, but don’t be misled. This is a love story.

Norton plays Harlan, an out of work cowboy from South Dakota who drifts into an LA that has no place for him. His path crosses with rebellious teenager Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), and the two of them fall into a dreamy, blissful love. He strikes up an immediate rapport with Lonnie (Rory Culkin), Tobe’s lonely, overlooked younger brother, and tries to fall in as best he can with her friends.

Things seem perfect, but their peace is soon shattered by Tobe’s father Wade (David Morse), who suspects this cowboy is not everything he claims to be, and quickly their sunny tale of love has turned into a rather bleak story of obsession and revenge.

As you might expect this means the film contains an odd change of pace in the middle, but one which Writer/Director David Jacobson handles fairly solidly. Morse turns in a decent performance as Tobe’s frustrated, dominating father and Norton’s lonely cowboy is an interesting lead, struggling to make the world conform to his outdated expectations and fantasising about life in the Wild West. Refreshingly, Jacobson just hints at each character’s past rather than spelling it out, and for the first hour at least the slow, sun drenched pace of the movie is fairly good watching.

With all of this in mind its hard to explain why the film doesn’t really deliver, save to say that it seems to be less than the sum of its parts. It does drag in places, the leisurely pace slipping into sheer tedium on occasions. When it finally does get going, it becomes a little hard to square the characters in the first half of the movie with those in the last half. The finale feels completely at odds with what has gone before, and also offers little in the way of conclusion.

With a movie like this, Jacobson has tried to ignore some of the traditional constraints of storytelling. Such innovation should always be applauded, but it also represents a risk, which unfortunately here has not really paid off.

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