Down in the Valley
No Ed, you wear that outfit in the next scene.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/05/2006
Director: David Jacobson
Cast: Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, Rory Culkin

Yet another film to take a drubbing at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival is writer/director David Jacobson’s “Down in the Valley”.

Starring and being produced by Edward Norton, the expectations were high. Add Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse and Rory (I’m the Best) Culkin and you have a very solid cast.

The story is intriguing, where Norton’s character, Harlan, is a self-proclaimed cowboy from South Dakota who has never seen the ocean and Wood is a rebellious Los Angeles teen who invites him to the beach with some friends on a whim.

What starts as inappropriate attraction leads to an inappropriate romance and to no great surprise, a disastrous end.

After watching the trailer, I knew this was the type of film that I normally really go for. I’m always interested in flawed and broken characters trying to find themselves through, and with, each other.

To that end, “Down in the Valley” did not disappoint me. Wood plays her character, Tobe (short for October) just right, rebelling against her physically strict yet emotionally absent father (Morse). After the initial ‘honeymoon’ period with Harlan, she begins to sense there’s something off with him and backs off.

Harlan doesn’t cope very well with that. Norton’s portrayal of a seemingly naïve and good-hearted ranch hand has shades of many different characters in it, from Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” to Lennie in “Of Mice and Men”. High compliments to be sure and his performance is worthy.

Rory Culkin and David Morse, however, are less convincing than the other actors. Though that is no fault of their own and has to do with the script.

For the first three-quarters of the movie, every beat and nuance is done remarkably well. It is the ending that unravels much of the good will the audience has generated to that point. At that point, Morse and Culkin step a bit out of character, or at least out of our expectations of what their characters should do. Norton remains consistent and excellent but it isn’t enough to shake the disappointment one may feel towards the end.

I hate to sound like I’m bad mouthing the film too much as I really feel there are enough good points that the film is worth a look. However, “Down in the Valley” isn’t that easy to recommend universally. Fans of art house cinema may find this interesting from a character study perspective, especially for the first hour and a half, but mainstream moviegoers might tune out due to the methodical pacing and character shifts near the end.

I’m going to have to downgrade “Down in the Valley” to a 3 out of 5. I was flirting with giving it a 4 for Norton and Wood’s superb performances but coming off the rails at the end was just too much for me to ignore.