Down in the Valley – DVD Review

Directed by:
David Jacobson

Starring:
Edward Norton …. Harlan
Evan Rachel Wood …. Tobe
David Morse …. Wade
Rory Culkin …. Lonnie

ThinkFilm presents a film written and directed by David Jacobson. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated R (for violence, sexual content, language and drug use). Released on DVD: September 26, 2006.

The Movie


I have no reservations when I say that Edward Norton is one of the best actors working today. He breaks on to the scene with his role in Primal Fear, then follows that up with one of 1996’s best films in The People vs. Larry Flynt, and then his back-to-back-to-back fan and critic favorites Rounders, American History X and Fight Club. After all of that he was being praised as the next great actor, but it never really happened. Instead he went with films like Keeping the Faith, The Score, Death to Smoochy, and Red Dragon. Perfectly adequate films, but nothing that helped his career elevate to the next level that’s for sure.

He would then show his talented side again in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, only to follow it up with the remake of The Italian Job. Then of all things plays a character who never shows his face yet practically stealing the show in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. A very interesting resume to say the least. Perhaps it was good for him to not leap in to super stardom so early on, and instead branch out as an actor and take challenging or interesting roles over the sure bets. Now in 2006 he has not one but three films lined up, and if Down in the Valley is any indicator of what’s to come, he’ll be the talk of the town again in no time.

Fantasies and playing make believe are an interesting thing, as kids we play games like cowboys and indians, but when we grow up we leave those things behind. The real world pulls us in and slowly beats us in to submission that stuff like that is no longer acceptable. Which is where Harlen comes in. Harlen’s a man who doesn’t fit in to today’s world, instead pulls back to simpler times of horseback riding and carrying a six shooter. A modern day cowboy.

He holds morals and longstanding principles much higher than things like money, iPods or cars. We actually find ourselves agreeing many times with Harlen during the first half of the film when it comes to his world views, even smiling at his curious and manors as an upstanding citizen. But once he meets up with a young teen by the name of Tobe (short for October), his world gets shaken up.

Tobe’s father, Wade, is the county sheriff. The two are constantly at each others throats and the fights between the two usually end with either one slamming a door in the others face or something breaking. Lonnie, the younger brother, is alone with no father figure to look up to and very few people who pay him any attention at all, including his sister who seems to just pity the poor kid.

It’s hard to tell exactly who is what at the beginning, with Wade and Harlan at opposite ends it’s hard to see who is wrong or right. Wade sees him as up to no good, going so far as to use a gun to get his message across. But Harlan is as wholesome as can be, with manners and obedience to boot. However there is very little to like about a person hanging out with minors, even a charmer like Harlen. That along with the kids both looking for an older figure to look up to and understand them are torn between Harlen who appears to be exactly who they want, while Wade who, while not always being there, constantly has their best interest at heart. He just has a poor way of showing it.

Down in the Valley could have easily been this generations Taxi Driver. It’s fully engulfed with 70’s cinema and wears that as a badge of honor. From the credits, to a cast poised for even better things in their future, down to a direction style that has been missed in modern films, it just oozes the qualities from the golden age of film making. So seeing it fall short of that goal is probably the hardest thing to take from it.

The only hitch in the film is that there doesn’t seem to be enough of a story to fill the run time and the final act just draws out. Not in a boring sense, but you can see that the writer is running out of stream and is stalling. Had the runtime been tightened this could have been something even greater but as it is there’s just too much time for the story to take up. And because of that the message and overall quality is lessened, bringing it from a possibly great film to just a very good one.

The DVD


Video:
(Presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen)
The films transfer is a very nice one, blacks are slightly brighter than they probably should be but it greatly helps the night scenes so perhaps it was an intended effect. I couldn’t notice any distracting shimmer or edge enhancement during playback either. However grain is certainly here and is quite noticeable, and scenes that have a wide view of the valley’s country side tend to come off a bit soft.

Audio:
(English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo)
Sadly the audio selection isn’t quite as good, the speakers never feel like they’re being used to their full potential. The dialogue comes out clear and there isn’t any distortion when the actors speak their lines, but the films very inviting score tends to be poorly presented with the rear speakers only being used a handful of times.

Extras:

Filmmaker and Actor Q&A (21:33) – The Q&A is moderated by Peter Travers and is noticeably edited down to the twenty minute run time it currently has. Since there is no commentary track and the DVD is quite sparse for extras overall, the least they could have done was include the complete unedited Q&A. Talked about in the piece are how Norton joined the project, where Jacobson came up with the idea for the film, and the two talk about the favorite parts of the movie. Not a lot of indepth discussion but fans will enjoy it.

Deleted Scenes (8:55) – The four deleted scenes add little to the film but since the characters are so interesting, seeing more of them here is certainly welcome. The first scene we see is an alternate take of the opening scene that feels wrong, and certainly was changed for good reasons. The second scene involves Harlen dress shopping for Tobe and talking about his view of the world, it was probably cut because it makes us question the character long before we should. The other two scenes are best left not talked about as they could be considered spoilers.

The only other features you’ll find on the disc are the films Theatrical Trailer and a Trailer Gallery that includes The King, Little Athens, 10th and Wolf, and I Love Your Work.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Down in the Valley
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

7.5
THE VIDEO

7
THE AUDIO

5.5
THE EXTRAS

4
REPLAY VALUE

7
OVERALL
6.5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)