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Director: David Jacobson

Producers: David Jacobson, Stavros Merjos, Bill Migliore

Written by: David Jacobson

Cast: Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, Rory Culkin


Described as a “western” by star Edward Norton, Down In The Valley is actually a story about identity disorders and obsessive love. It starts off with the beautiful Tobe (Wood) sharing one of those transcendent, love-at-first-sight movie moments with the gas station attendant, Harlan (Norton), who peeks at her décolletage while filling up her car. Inspired by unfathomable motives, Tobe decides to invite this complete stranger to join her and her friends on a trip to the beach. Driven by less mysterious desires, Harlan agrees, and quits his job on the spot. Along the way we find out that Harlan is a modern-day cowboy. Tobe’s friends are thoroughly amused by his naiveté and Old West vernacular (he refers to marijuana as “wacky weed”), but she seems entranced. The next thing you know, they’re embarking on one of those Love montages where they stare at each other and make out a lot. These montages are always ridiculous, but they were funnier in the ’70s when they were several minutes long and accompanied by a heavily orchestrated pop song. (By the way, what’s the greater anachronism here: a cowboy in modern-day California, or a full-service gas station operating anywhere?)

The question of why a strikingly beautiful teenager would immediately fall for a 30-something unemployed gas station attendant/cowboy remains unexplored as the movie predictably focuses on Edward Norton’s character Harlan. Now, there are some people who consider Norton to be the most talented actor of his generation, and while I wouldn’t say he’s without talent, I disagree with this opinion. Great actors have a presence which Norton seems to lack. And it’s not that he’s a particularly subtle actor either. At least since Primal Fear, he’s been attracted to the kind of indulgent roles that call on him to do too much as an actor. The character of Harlan is just such a role. Courtly at first, it becomes clear that Harlan is one seriously disturbed cowpoke. And without revealing too much of the plot, let me just say that the foreshadowing with the guns is not so subtle.

Harlan successfully cons Tobe and her brother Lonnie (Culkin, yes, another one), but father knows best. He sizes up Harlan, and immediately notices that Harlan is A) old and B) a weirdo. After Harlan gets Tobe arrested, Dad sensibly advises Harlan to stay the hell away from his daughter. Unfortunately, Harlan and Tobe, like all star-crossed lovers, have a way of tuning out what they’d rather not hear. But Dad is right, and tragedy ensues. All of which leads to Harlan getting to play out his cowboy dreams in living color.

Ultimately, the film has a very simple, conservative message: Don’t talk to strangers, and listen to your father.

—Edward Rholes

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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