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Horrible and humorous, just the way I like my Westerns.
"A town run by sinners." Priest (Burn Gorman)
Yep, Denton, Texas, is all that and more. It resides In A Valley of Violence, the titular warning to all of us that beside the dust, nothing is going to be pretty.
But don't be so gloomy, for this oater is a genre hooter, a tongue-in-cheek satire of the Western generously seasoned with absurdity and dark comedy. From the serious take of Clint Eastwood (think The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Unforgiven; or whatever) to Quentin Tarantino (think Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight), this Valley is temporarily governed by an ambivalent Marshal (John Travolta) and a stoic drifter, Paul (Ethan Hawke).
They are bound to clash as the Marshal tries to protect his lame-brained but hostile son, Gilly (James Ransone), from Paul's vengeance. Not so much because Gilly and the resident thugs employed by the Marshal are robbers or even lazy but because they have murdered Paul's ever-so- cute dog Abby (Jumpy).
Because that mutt is more adorable than The Artist's Uggie, we shift our sympathy immediately to him and forsake the humans. Talking about shifting realities, the town is set in Texas but filmed in New Mexico, whose landscape thankfully looks nothing like Texas's.
Writer/director Ti West, best known for horror films but just as much at home with this genre, has an especially good eye for the contradictions in the Marshal, who is a saint next to Gene Hackman's menacing Sheriff in The Quick and the Dead. But then, our hero Paul has his own contradictions, best to be enjoyed while watching the film, for character development is not West's primary goal.
No, he is interested in spoofing the Western while he crafts a blood and guts mini thriller. Along the way we can enjoy Jeff Grace's Morricone-like spaghetti Western music and titles and credits worth of the playful Tarantino and James Bond franchise.
He does this all to produce an enjoyable black comedy whose absurdity is in check while its comedy wins the day.
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