In 2016, it’s weird to have two different Westerns released a month apart, so the odds of both of them being good are pretty slim. One of these Westerns being Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, which was a film that I appreciated both as an action film and as a Western way more than I thought I would. Needless to say that when I heard Ti West was helming a Western, I was thrown off. It didn’t help that I began to hear some pretty poor word of mouth. I’m a fair man though, so I decided to sit down with a big bowl of popcorn and get my Western on. So, does The Magnificent Seven still reign supreme or does Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence give it a run for its money?
Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog Abby roam the West, trying to get to Mexico with as little trouble as possible. When Paul stops off in the town of Denton, he runs into Gilly (James Ransone) who is not only a loud-mouth Deputy with a posse of goons, he’s also the son of the town Marshal (John Travolta). The confrontation puts the men on a trail of blood and vengeance.
I always love to see a filmmaker step out of his wheelhouse, really try something different. Ti West is a damn fine horror director, I find The Innkeepers to be a terrifying blast and The Sacrament was one of my favorite films the year it was released. He’s always great at catching me off-guard, which he has done again here. He has managed to take those horror sensibilities and integrate them so well into his Western story. Another big compliment that I can give him on this film is that while it’s a film that takes it’s time, it still manage to move at a great pace. I can’t remember a single moment in this film where I was bored. It’s very easy to tell that Ti West has had this story in his head for a while because the movie has no dead weight to it. West is here to tell a story and he knows how to tell it without any bullshit getting in the way, all while giving us enjoyable characters and a story you get invested in way more than you’d think.
West has also proved his ability to direct actors, the whole cast here gives great performances–with the exception of Taissa Farmiga, who proves to be charismatic but just can’t quite hit the notes that the rest of the cast can. Speaking of The Magnificent Seven, Ethan Hawke shows up here as Paul–basically a “Man With No Name” type. Unlike Clint Eastwood’s classic character, Ethan Hawke brings much more emotional range to him than the typical stoic badass. John Travolta even manages to turn in a good performance here, which he doesn’t do as much as he used to. It helps that he has a very well-written character, a Marshal who just wants everyone to go home, he doesn’t want any blood spilled. The main antagonist comes in the form of Marshal’s son, played by James Ransone, who delivers a performance that is very cartoony, but he’s so much fun. There’s a lot of cartoony acting here and most of it works, even Karen Gillan. She chews up every last bit of scenery as fast as she can, but she’s still fun to watch.
If there’s anything that people will have problems with, it’s some of the cartoony aspects. I personally think that most of it works, but even Karen Gillan’s character can be a bit much sometimes. Again, I feel like it all serves a purpose, but I could understand why it may annoy some people.
Don’t worry, if you’re a fan of Ti West and you want to see him bloody the west up, you will be satisfied. The film’s final act is blood-filled satisfaction, all being delivered with edge-of-your seat tension. Throughout all of these standoffs, my eyes were glued directly to the screen. I could probably count on one hand how many times I blinked over the course of this 104-minute long film.
The important word to use with this film is “satisfying”. It’s one of the most satisfying films that I’ve seen all year. The build up is so compelling, it draws you in and draws you in until it walks you into that third act blood bath and never slows down until the credits roll. It’s such a simple story, but somehow West manages to make it so much more engaging than you could ever imagine. If Westerns are not your thing, then this may not be either. That being said, this isn’t just your typical Western. If you like gripping revenge thrillers and the unforgiving grimness of the west, then this’ll be right up your alley.