It was action night at Toronto After Dark on Sunday, wonderfully hosted by the Scotiabank Theatre here in Toronto, and they delved a little further west than they have in the past by screening the latest Ti West film, the western, In a Valley of Violence.
West has gotten a lot of love from Toronto After Dark and for good reason, his genre films have proven themselves entertaining, The Sacrament, The Innkeepers, The House of the Devil, and his work on V/H/S.
This time around he is playing with traditional western tropes including the concept of the nameless stranger, played by Ethan Hawke (who actually, briefly, gives his name) in this incarnation, who drifts into the town of Denton, and finds himself taking on the town’s corrupt sheriff, a villainous turn by John Travolta, his son, Gilly (James Ransone) and sees a supporting turn by Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan.
Not only sharing the singular story thread of John Wick, the film owes as much to the films of John Ford as it does those of Sergio Leone (easily noted by the opening credit sequence and a score by Jeff Grace, very much serving as an homage to Ennio Morricone) there are sweeping landscape shots and recognisable nods to films of the genre.
That being said the script and dialogue aren’t always as strong as they should be and West’s writing occasionally tries to be revisionist in a Tarantino fashion, but lacking the strong voice to do it. Just as many moments fall flat as fly, but it is an enjoyable entry in the western genre, while trying to shake up the audience expectations within the confines of that genre.
The real star of the film is the dog, Abby (Jumpy), who steals every scene she’s in and of course, that makes the drive of Hawke’s character much more empathetic and allows the audience to follow on his quest.
The one sequence that truly doesn’t work is a dream/memory sequence and the lighting used. It makes the film glaringly modern and jolts the viewer out of the film. I love that West is pushing himself to create beyond his preferred genre and I hope that he makes another western, but maybe have someone else involved on the script.
Hawke is quite at home in the western genre, and this marks his first of two this year (the other being the big budget remake of The Magnificent Seven, which in turn is a remake of The Seven Samurai), and he moves with an ease on the screen that invites the viewer in and convinces them to follow him.
A fun western, and also something a little different for Toronto After Dark.
The fun continues this evening, make sure you check out the full schedule here! And we’ll see you After Dark!