The Great Western Revival of 2016 rolls on with the arrival of “In a Valley of Violence,” marking an assured genre transition for horror filmmaker Ti West.
While it may lack the enthusiastic critical consensus of “Hell or High Water” or the epic mainstream appeal of “The Magnificent Seven” remake, this smartly cast, vengeance-fueled oater proves mighty entertaining in its own right.
Ethan Hawke stars as a traumatized Army deserter named Paul who fatefully drifts into the godforsaken, former mining town of Denton.
It isn’t long before Paul finds himself in the crosshairs of Gilly (James Ransone), the local bully and son of Denton’s philosophical Marshal (John Travolta); as well as in the considerably less hostile sights of the comely Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga), who runs the town’s only hotel with her older sister (Karen Gillan).
West, whose previous output includes “The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers,” has done his homework, deftly cherry-picking from the Leone/Eastwood/Tarantino kit bag.
The end result admittedly favors tone over substance, accentuated by Jeff Grace’s playful, mock Morricone score and character turns that affectionately flirt with conventions without giving way to outright parody.
The one notable exception would be Jumpy, the border collie-blue heeler mix who plays it completely straight as Hawke’s faithful companion, Abbie, delivering one of the year’s more affecting canine performances.
‘In a Valley of Violence’
MPAA rating: R, for violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, Hollywood, ArcLight Santa Monica