Friday, September 01, 2006

Down in the Valley (2005)

Down in the Valley (David Jacobson, 2005)

They met in a gasoline station. Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), short for October, was on her way to the beach with a bunch of her friends when her eye catches urban cowboy Harlan (Edward Norton). Whimsically, Tobe invites Harlan to the beach. The latter quits his minimum wage job and falls in love with the adventurous girl, vice versa. I was ready to give up on David Jacobson's film thinking that it's another one of those cowboy movies whose only relation to the beloved Western is that its characters don a cowboy hat, bootleg pants, and rides a horse (Brokeback Mountain anyone?).

Half of the film is actually just that, a love-above-all tale of the charming urban cowboy and the young chick overprotected by her step dad, Wade (David Morse). That half is insipid, slow, corny, plain, and tiring. It's an uninteresting mix, the cool yet oddly nerdy Norton and beautiful yet undelightfully wooden Wood. The chemistry between them is disposable, especially once you've seen Norton ride a horse and conclude that the horse makes a better mate for Norton than Wood. The entire romance is whimsical on writer Jacobson's part. There's no effort in believability. It's basically a love-at-first-sight romance urged not by sexual or physical attraction but curiosity or just plain weirdness, which is why I couldn't get why Tobe is so madly in love with the cowboy. It's probably just to piss off her overprotective dad, or a rush of burgeoning female hormones lusting for cowboy passion, but it's just plain ludicrous.

Then the film saves itself. The cowboy starts doing monologues of John Wayne, complete with quick draw choreography. You instantly feel that the cowboy isn't an authentic cowboy but a delusional psychopath who would at one point in the film, wreak havoc. You don't know when, you don't know how, but of course, he does and when he does, just like a true delusional cowboy, he goes out and about, deceives his most welcoming sidekick, Tobe's loner brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin), and rides the country like a Hollywood cowboy convict being chased through the scenic West.

It's a commendable effort, but not entirely a successful one. Aside from the psychopathic Harlan, and to a lesser degree his sidekick Lonnie, the other characters are just plain stupid in how they react to situations. The step dad, a stern policeman knows that something is wrong with his stepdaughter's new daughter, but does not even choose to investigate given the fact that Harlan's records is available for his overprotective eyes. Tobe's indecisive nature may be attributed to her youth or to her rebellious predisposition, but it doesn't make for easy viewing. She lets go, and then suddenly in a whim, hugs the cowboy, and then the next day, doesn't show up in the agreed time and place. It seems that almost everything in the film was a result of a grandiose whim --- grandiose in all its efforts, but still whimsical and unfulfilling.

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