Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Down in the ValleyEdward Norton Directed by David Jacobson
Starring Edward Norton
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Try and imagine a modern day western film taking place in bustling Los Angeles County, complete with an "Aw-shucks", white hat toting, young man in love with a girl who’s not quite of legal age yet, and you’ll come close to grasping DOWN IN THE VALLEY.

The story is set purely in L.A. as we watch a cowpoke named Harlan (Edward Norton, THE ILLUSIONIST) walk into town wearing Levi’s and a frayed rope draped over one shoulder. The dichotomy is immediately striking as planes fly over his head and power lines droop across roadways.

Then we jump to a small family that lives in L.A. and are having troubles. Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood, THE MISSING) is a very pretty young high schooler who lives with her burly father Wade (David Morse, 16 BLOCKS) and her clingy brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin, SIGNS). Tobe is growing too fast into womanhood and independence, and she and her father constantly joust with each other regarding curfews, clothing, and being a responsible teen. Lonnie latches onto Tobe all the time, a lost little brother whom Tobe is growing tired of raising since her father works all the time to help support them. And Lonnie isn’t Wade’s son, being an adopted family member but still a significant part of their lives.

One sunny day Tobe and her friends pull into a gas station to fuel up and encounter the "for real" cowboy, Harlan. Tobe is immediately attracted to him and invites him to go to the beach with her and her friends. Harlan accepts at the cost of his job, simply walking away from it. The two form an instant relationship and all appears sweet.

But when Tobe’s father ,Wade, finds out about it, he’s less than happy. Harlan tries to steal into his good graces but Wade will have none of it. His parental guard goes up and puts the brakes on their relationship.

Initially we’re pulling for Harlan and Tobe to become the ideal star-crossed lovers, battling family and circumstances in order to ride off into the sunset. But all is an illusion as we see Harlan’s cowboy facade crumbling under the weight of a doomed relationship. Not willing to give up, Harlan tries anything he can fathom to get back into the family’s good graces. This includes taking young Lonnie out shooting, stealing horses for daylong trips, and finally doing the unthinkable of unthinkables.

The fascinating portrayal of a wannabe cowpoke in today’s society is excellently done by Edward Norton. He is so adorable in the beginning that most female viewers will probably fawn over him. But when his steady psychological break starts showing, a terrible realization hits the audience; Harlan isn’t Harlan at all.

The film comes complete with panoramic views of the San Fernando Valley atop lush hills, giving us a truly western feel to the movie, and there’s even a quick draw shoot out that’ll both entertain and repulse most movie watchers.

The only downside is the ending. With all that happened to Tobe, Lonnie, and Wade at the hands of Harlan, it didn’t make sense that they would "honor" him in this way (no spoilers).

But this is still a fantastic psychological, modern day western. Norton is lovable and creepy both at the same time.

Click here for the Down in the Valley movie trailer!


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