Down in the Valley
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr David Jacobson
with Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, Rory Culkin, Bruce Dern, Geoffrey Lewis, Elizabeth Peña, John Diehl, Kat Dennings, Hunter Parrish, Aviva, Aaron Fors
release US 5.May.06,
UK 26.May.06
05/US ThinkFilm 2h05

High noon: Wood and Norton

culkin morse dern

LA Film Fest

Click here to buy posters! Support Shadows: Buy a Poster

Down in the Valley There's a dramatic intensity to this film that leaves us more than a little shaken by the time the story reaches its conclusion. Although the nagging feeling that it's a vanity project doesn't help.

On the upper edge of the San Fernando Valley, where urban Los Angeles shows its Wild West roots, 17-year-old Tobe (Wood) lives with her little brother Lonnie (Culkin) and her single dad (Morse). Enter a smiling stranger, Harlan (Norton), adopted by Tobe as her own personal project, partly to rebel against her dad. Harlan is a nice guy with some seriously creepy shadows around the edges. Is he really a naive South Dakota hick? Or maybe a charming desperado?

Writer-director Jacobson inventively brings the attitude and visual style of a Western into modern-day America, blending themes and settings, referencing classic movies and even stumbling onto a ghost-town film set in the hills. This juxtaposition is boldly and cleverly done, and it gives the film a texture that adds meaning to an already jam-packed tale of ambition, deception and family ties.

This is actually Tobe and Lonnie's story, and both Wood and Culkin give fully formed performances that are complex and surprising, balancing steely bravado with tender vulnerability. And Morse is superb as the security officer (read sheriff) trying to keep his already fragile family from collapsing entirely.

But the film has obviously been adapted into a star vehicle for Norton, placing Harlan front and centre, and giving the actor a seemingly endless stream of scenes in which he can really flex his acting chops. It's no surprise that he's up to the challenge--Norton is terrific at this kind of unhinged character. But we never escape the sense that he's reaching for DeNiro comparisons, right up to the moment when he's talking into a mirror, with a gun drawn.

While it does feel somewhat stretched and overwrought, this is also a powerfully well-told story. The dialog is funny, tense and realistic, and there's an almost overwhelming sense that it's leading to a terrible tragedy. Which creates a startlingly creepy, often scary atmosphere that really gets under our skin.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 7.Feb.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Down in the Valley Jai Hogg, Brisbane: 4.5/5 "A brilliant, unselttling film that highlights the talents of it's stars particularly Norton, Wood, Culkin and Morse. Powerful film well worth the watch. Always a pleasure watching Norton light up the screen." (2.Mar.06)
© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall