Tobe is about 16, living with her dad and younger brother in LA's San Fernando Valley. She invites a gas station attendant named Harlan to come to the beach with her and her friends. He's from South Dakota, wears a cowboy hat, talks country, and has been a ranch hand. They have a great time, his simple expressions seem like wisdom, he's attentive and polite, and even though he's more than twice her age, she wants to spend time with him. When her father objects, she rebels. Harlan, meanwhile, thinks she's his soul mate, and he starts making plans to get her away from her father. Worlds are set to collide, but which ones?Written by
The $8 million budget was financed by a wealthy producer-financier, Sam Nazarian of Element Films. See more »
While casually viewing Wade's gun collection, Harlan tells Lonnie that one of the revolvers is a Colt Peacemaker made in 1921. But the gun's year of manufacture would be impossible for Harlan to know without looking up its serial number in an official reference list, which he did not do. See more »
I've tried living down in the valley again, really tried this time. Walked up and down it looking for one open face, but most people I've meet hardly seem like human beings to me anymore.
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It takes a certain mindset to appreciate DOWN IN THE VALLEY, a quiet little movie about little people who want something more than what their environs offer. The film is long (just over two hours), could use some editing, allows a rather pedestrian musical score to cover the dialogue far too frequently, and for much of the film the camera exposure makes everything so sun drenched (even for the San Fernando Valley where the story takes place!) that it feels bleached. But those aspects feel secondary in the presence of some very fine performances by an excellent cast directed with vision by writer/director David Jacobson.
Life is exceedingly boring in the bland town where Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) and her little brother Lonny (Rory Culkin) live with their sheriff father Wayne (David Morse) - we never know why there is no mother around though Wayne brings in sleepover subs at random. Tobe has girlfriends with whom she cruises guys and on one afternoon's trip to the beach she meets gas station attendant Harlan (Edward Norton), a drifter who claims to be a rancher form South Dakota and has all the genteel manners of a gentleman raised to respect women. Harlan lives in a trashy motel, plays and dresses as a cowboy, and has an innocence about him that makes us want to believe he is not the borderline personality he is. Tobe picks Harlan up, they begin seeing each other despite Wayne's better judgment, and Tobe and Harlan include Lonny in their pursuit of a world that borders on make believe Western drama. Wayne objects more strongly, discovers Harlan is tempting Tobe away from her home, and confronts Harlan until Harlan finally decides the only way to move forward is to rescue Tobe and Lonny from their bad homelife. Harlan's dark side emerges and his cowboy play becomes real, gunshots are fired and the ending of the film is a mélange of old Western movie make-believe and contemporary tragedy of a young man out of joint with his world.
Edward Norton gives a stunning portrayal of an out of touch drifter: we never know his background except for suggestions that his childhood was spent in detention homes, foster homes, and other dysfunctional modes of getting by. Evan Rachel Wood is radiantly beautiful as the needy teenager who ultimately cannot cope with her desires to leave the home nest. Rory Culkin has few lines but his presence is palpably worrisome. Bruce Dern is on board as a crusty old contemporary 'cowboy' and David Morse again turns in a performance that is three dimensional and credible (it would have been helpful to know why he is a single parent). The film is not without its flaws (as mentioned above plus more), but it manages to give Edward Norton yet another chance to demonstrate his considerable skills as an actor who can make the most peripheral characters stick in our hearts. This is a fine little movie, much underrated. Grady Harp
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