The blurbs on the 'Down in the Valley' DVD make comparison with ‘Badlands’ and ‘Taxi Driver’. The cynic of a film viewer I am becoming in light of this Summers exercise in marketing but failure in delivery, meant I frowned instantly and returned the DVD to the shelf before returning to it when it turned out to be the most interesting of a bad lot. The comparisons are not without basis, a young girl is lead astray by an older man of questionable standing to her families dismay while said man spends a lot of time talking to himself alone in his motel room staring at a mirror playing with guns and being largely maladjusted.
Edward Norton heads up the cast, from the outset even when those around him are unsuspecting, his naivety, attitude and actions are unsettling, not just because they are foreboding of deeper shades but because Norton seems to put across frustration with a look of squinty constipation. Norton makes the man strange, so you that you find it difficult to empathise with the reasons why Evan Rachel Woods and Rory Culkins brother and sister see so much in him. The former duo are subtle and effective, and Wood is eerily reminscent of both Sissy Spacek and Cybil Shepherd, you can however see Norton acting.
This effort can be seen elsewhere in the film. Its pace is slow and languishing. An attempt at evoking the slow peacefulness of ‘Lost in Translation’ comes to mind, especially when the film breaks to shots of traffic. The soundtrack, the fading effect of a sequence in a bath, aimless conversations and hazy 70s look of the film early on don’t gel well together and the third act, where story takes over feels like a distant second cousin to the rest of the film. What ultimately does keep you watching, is the car crash factor, waiting to see how events unfurl because there is never any doubt dark times are coming. This resolution when it does come lacks punch. From the beginning, last years ‘The King’ was in my mind and its story of the utter destruction a stranger brings to a new family, ‘Down in the Valley’ never reaches these depths of emotion and impact. A final scene of questioning and resonating feelings do not do justice to what has gone before, it turns out to be a film for comparison not for appreciation.