‘In a Valley of Violence’ too light to make much of an impression

When a man sidles up to a bar in a Western, it matters what he says. Maybe he orders whiskey, or milk in a dirty glass. But a lot is on the line.

A few minutes into “In a Valley of Violence,” a dusty stranger makes his request at the bar. “Water,” he says. “In a bowl.”

All right, we are intrigued. Maybe this Western will be a little different, or at least its hero will be.

It doesn’t take too long to figure out that Paul (Ethan Hawke) is traveling with a dog, and that the dog is thirsty too. But things are about to get weirder for this Civil War veteran, who really just wants to be left in peace. (In which case he shouldn’t have gone through a place called the “Valley of Violence,” but whatever.)

He’s wandered into one of those towns that’s run by a strong-arm sheriff (John Travolta), who—an irony here—would also prefer to be left in peace.

Problem is, the sheriff’s idiot son (James Ransome) wants to push Paul around. And worse, he wants to push Paul’s dog around. If you saw “John Wick,” you have a pretty good idea of what happens when bad guys mess with the hero’s dog.

Although it seems jokey at times, and director Ti West (“The Sacrament”) gets a little cute with the spaghetti Western references, this movie eventually finds itself. There’s just enough variation on Western clichés to keep it watchable.

A good cast helps a lot: Hawke makes sure his wanderer has just enough Clint Eastwood mystery, but he’s also panicky and vulnerable. Travolta seems to relish his part, a weary lawman who is truly, truly reluctant to have to go through with all the showdown-in-main-street stuff.

Ransome’s skeezy sidekicks get some amusing moments; the super-reliable Toby Huss plays a guy who’d really rather not be hanging around with these varmints, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do when there’s nothing else going on.

West doesn’t think of much for the female characters to do, so the spirited efforts of Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan (from “Guardians of the Galaxy”) are pretty much a wash.

When the showdown in Main Street finally comes, it’s clever enough. But that’s the limitation of this movie. “Clever enough” just isn’t going to stick to your ribs, even if you like Westerns.

‘In a Valley of Violence’ (2½ stars)

A stranger (Ethan Hawke) wanders into a Western town, where the sheriff (John Travolta) can’t control his psycho son (James Ransome). There’s enough variation here to keep the movie watchable, and Hawke and Travolta are fun to watch — but finally this never goes beyond the mildly clever.

Rated: R, for violence

Showing: Sundance Cinemas

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

The Stumbling Fiddler Band is scheduled to perform March 3 in Everett. (Photo provided by Port Gardner Bay Music Society)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Get ready for St. Patrick’s Day with music by the Stumbling Fiddler Band in Everett.

The future of fashion: Moving toward a sustainable wardrobe

Over 22 billion pounds of textiles are thrown away each year in the U.S. How do we tackle such a massive problem? Start small.

What we might call a bar cart began as Victorian England’s tea trolley

Whatever you call it and however you use it, this birch wood cart with white enameled wheels attracted $2,650 at auction.

Bring summer’s bounty home by growing blueberries in your own backyard

Here’s a look at great several varieties to consider, along with tips on how to ensure your little home orchard thrives.

The 2024 Volkswagen Atlas includes new wheel designs for all trim levels. (Volkswagen)
Volkswagen Atlas more handsome than ever for 2024

The mid-size SUV also has a new engine and an increase in the number of standard features.

Ryan Carlson’s goose Bubba honks at cars outside his home on Monday Feb. 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
What’s honkin’ on this Everett thoroughfare? Have a gander

Henrietta and Betty, a goose duet, entertain passersby in the yard between Colby Avenue and Evergreen Way.

Jon Pardi performs during the 2023 CMA Fest on Saturday, June 10, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Country star Jon Pardi’s “Mr. Saturday Night World Tour” stops in Everett for a show Feb. 16.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE 500 (Provided by Mercedes-Benz)
2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE 500

The electric SUV certainly stands out from the crowd.

Red foliage of the weeping Laceleaf Japanese Maple tree (Acer palmatum) background texture. High quality photo.
A well-pruned laceleaf Japanese maple can liven up your yard year-round

If you have one of these stunning specimens, now’s the time to cut back dead branches. If not, add one to your landscape.

The Snohomish County PUD’s outage map can be found online at outagemap.snopud.com. (screenshot)
New and improved outage map keeps you in the know when you’re in the dark

The interactive online tool lets you report an outage, see outages around you and receive updates on restoration efforts.

These pickles mark your spot and serve as memorable advertising for Heinz

Whimsical, attention-grabbing bookmarks like these are both fun and practical. This set of nine sold for $130 at auction.

The 2024 Hyundai Tucson cargo area is one of the largest among compact SUVs. (Hyundai)
2024 Hyundai Tucson compact SUV is big on standard features

The Hyundai Tucson is one of the best-looking members of the densely… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.