What is with the designation of making modern Westerns? Neo-noir is the closest movement similar to this but makes much more sense, there was a lot that happened offscreen in classic noirs that you couldn’t show at the time. But Westerns never suffered from that; the brutality wasn’t something needed. They were films that glorified the old west, not pointed out it’s obvious flaws. While a number of modern Westerns take this to heart and show with frankness how inglourious the old west was, films like “The Magnificent Seven” and ”In a Valley of Violence” never really go that route, instead telling stories that could have been (and basically were) told then. Money is a motivation, to be sure, with “Magnificent Seven,” but Ti West, the director of “In a Valley of Violence” was never one to be concerned with such facets of the film industry.
The sense of being a modern Western is not the only connection to ”Magnificent Seven,” both films feature Ethan Hawke heavily, and for good reason. He is a captivating screen presence and one that, until recently, has been rarely utilized. His work with Richard Linklater speaks for itself (“The Before Trilogy,” “Boyhood”) and while neither of these films really showcase his talent, he is still a welcome sight to behold. Also appearing are two sisters who run an inn, played by Karen Gillan and Taissa Farmiga, both of whom are actresses I’ve enjoyed in other projects but feel very out of place here. To finish out the cast is John Travolta, who has no business being in a movie since 1998. Here he plays the sheriff of the small town Hawke finds himself in, and apparently growing appropriate facial hair is where Travolta drew the line in putting in effort to the film. He sleepwalks through the movie, putting in just enough effort to remind the audience he was once an accomplished actor, but nowhere near enough to make us think he still is one.
Ti West’s filmography is an interesting one, with two strong hits (“The Innkeepers,“House of the Devil”), one miss (“The Sacrament”), and several segments in anthology films that fall flat. Here he branches out from his usual genre of horror to make the story of Paul’s, played by Ethan Hawke, vengeance against those who have done him wrong. There are elements of Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino here, two directors who have made spectacular modern Westerns, but West never reaches the heights that their films did. Instead, “In a Valley of Violence” is a tale of cliché, falling back on characters that feel inorganic and a setting that has been seen a hundred times. Despite this, West is still an accomplished director, and there are scenes where his artistic vision comes through. Unfortunately, they are too few and far between.