2005 - United States - 114 minutes
Writer and Director - David Jacobson
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
Edward Norton is superior in portraying young, edgy characters, and he has scored another home run in this film. He plays Harlan who is enamored of cowboys and the code of the Old West. Harlan is definitely out of place in contemporary metropolitan Los Angeles.
Tobe - a nickname for October - is the typical lower-middle-class Valley Girl who disagrees with her father about, basically, everything. She expresses her disagreement with her foul mouth and numerous little acts of defiance. Evan Rachel Wood creates a character in Tobe with whom the viewer has great sympathy because she is really a good-hearted teenager looking for her identity. Her scenes with her younger brother are especially touching.
Rory Culkin plays the younger brother, Lonnie, who is beset by almost crippling insecurity due to an emotionally distant father and the fact that he is very small for his thirteen years.
There is no mention of a mother, but the father is skillfully played by David Morse as a man who cares for the welfare of both of his children but has absolutely no clue as to how to deal with the tender egos of two adolescents. It's as though he has never read a book or seen a television show about the problems of children in today's world. He simply blunders stupidly forward making one wrong martinet-like decision after the other.
The plot of the film - in the first two-thirds, at least - is basically pat. A teenager meets a charming young man from the West who is displaced in Los Angeles. He is full of dreams and shares those with the girl - and importantly - with her emotionally scarred younger brother. The father is very suspicious of the relationship.
The last third of the film severely weakens a very good start in that it resolves all of these conflicts with some totally unbelievable actions on the part of all the characters. Because some of the events are so surreal, the viewer might come to suspect that some are taking place only in the minds of the participants, but there is no indication that this is so.
Down in the Valley is flawed by overdone climatic scenes, but the general feel of the film is entertaining and worthwhile. Edward Norton is a bit long in the tooth for the character he portrays, but his acting is so superior that you forgive this flaw. This is a good movie with an insightful interview of Norton and Jacobson on the DVD - worthwhile entertainment.
October 2, 2006