DAVID JACOBSON’S DOWN IN THE VALLEY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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I’ve been curiously drawn to the 2005 film Down in the Valley throughout the last 10 years, if for no other reason than I can’t seem to find too many movies quite like it. Starring a mysterious and characteristically magnetic Edward Norton as a modern day cowboy who “drifts” into town (the oh-so-cinematic San Fernando Valley) and changes the lives of the people he comes into contact with, it’s a strange film, dreamily stylish (Enrique Chediak is the cinematographer), and peppered with colorful and juicy supporting performances from an excellent Evan Rachel Wood, the always terrific David Morse, a sensitive Rory Culkin, and the legendary Bruce Dern. After making its debut in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, the film was released to mostly muted critical response and close to zero box office during a brief limited theatrical run; it’s still not available on Blu-ray with only a DVD and possible streaming options available. Writer/director David Jacobson hasn’t worked much since this film came and went, which seems to be a shame, because the film is an interesting if not entirely successful mood piece that’s heavily interested in character and skewing the expected conventions of the classic “Western” melodrama. Because the film is set in the present day, and it revolves around a delusional lead character (trying not to give too much away, here…), Jacobson is free to upend our common expectations, going in directions you won’t likely see coming, unafraid to present flawed main characters who you may empathize with if not sympathize with. Morse is really outstanding as Wood’s easily angered father who resents the heartfelt if not potentially dangerous Norton trying to make eyes with his sexually blossoming young daughter, with Jacobsen tipping his hat in all manner of auteur-lead directions, evoking Terrence Malick’s Badlands, the works of John Ford, and the occasional surreality of David Lynch or someone along those lines. This is a quirky, cool, and defiantly original piece of work that’s worth tracking down.

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