Down in the Valley
Harlan (Edward Norton) is a cowboy in a gas station, and Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) the teenage “valley” girl he sets his hat towards, though not if her gun-lovin’ daddy Wade (David Morse) has anything to say in the matter. The story doesn’t get much more complex than that—Tobe’s kid brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin) plays his part in an extended chase in the last reel—but plot-driven cinema isn’t the name of the game when writer-director Jacobson is doing his damnedest to channel Rafelson, Ashby and Malick, the humanists of 1970s American cinema, an intent confirmed in the casting of crazy ol’ Bruce Dern in a small role. Jacobson gets the space and place right: The San Fernando Valley is like a character in the picture, its dusty lowlands, anti-culture strip malls and halogen-lit nighttime highways. And the casting is bang on—-Norton is both unnerving and sympathetic; Morse brings his patented heavy physicality and Wood is luminous, especially in the early going. So why doesn’t it hang together? The leisurely pace is an easy and obvious culprit and moments of teeth-aching whimsy could have been curbed with grit in the directing and less sentiment in the editing suite.