In a Valley of Violence Blu-ray Review
John Wick Goes West
Horror director Ti West's In a Valley of Violence is a slight but stylish throwback revenge Western.Reminding us of a lesser variation on a number of Eastwood's vast canon of Westerns, like High Plains Drifter and Hang 'Em High, only infused with the kind of 'picked on the wrong stranger' approach that informs both classic thrillers like First Blood and new classics like John Wick, In a Valley of Violence has great aspirations, right from its Tarantino-esque title sequence, but doesn't quite make good on them. As Ethan Hawke's beleaguered traveller tries to make his way to Mexico, he happens through a small town where the locals don't want to leave him alone, and when petty antics escalate into violence, even John Travolta's tired old sheriff can't stop things getting out of control, especially when his son (James Ransone) is the ringleader.West has the look right, the mood and music, and the characters too. He's got an old town to set it in, and a decent enough (Wick-like) premise. In Hawke he has a solid protagonist, capable of conveying angst and bloodlust easily, and finding the psychologically wounded ex-vet thing a walk in the park. Travolta, turning his hand to his first western, is a surprisingly un-cliched sheriff, although the two of them are both left struggling against the weakest link, Ransone, whose one-note cowardly bully gets tiresome after a while (imagine if the son had been the primary antagonist in Wick). But West still doesn't bring it all together in a way that quite gels, with the final act of confrontation dissolving into anticlimax rather than cathartic closure.
Picture QualityIn a Valley of Violence rides onto UK soil with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen. It's certainly not a pretty picture, shot in 35mm and suitably textured for the genre and style, but strangely noisy and soft around the edges.
It's probably fairly faithful to the source material
There is detail beneath the haze, with a softer, slightly-out-of-focus look, and, conversely, said look does generally lend itself towards the western period feel of the piece. Close-ups fare far better, revealing more lines and scars and weathered outfits, even in the darker night / fire-lit sequence, but as soon as the camera drifts out to a middle range, the softness and haze creeps back in.
The colour scheme is similarly tweaked to suit the period, robbing the image of any particularly striking tones and leaving it murky, dusty and suitably dull. Black levels are strong enough, although there is some crush around the edges, in the extremes. It's not a pretty picture, but it's probably fairly faithful to the source material.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a surprisingly punchy affair, again reflecting the style of the piece, which favours old school spaghetti western twangs and more striking, dramatic beats to emphasise the tense setpieces and hammer home the curious infusion of traditional western vibes with modern sensibilities.
A decent, at times impressively boisterous track
Dialogue gets priority across the frontal array, clearly and coherently disseminated, while the effects channels lap up the echoing, booming gunshots, the barking of the dog, the crackle of a fire. They are given space to breathe across the array and even get a little bit of LFE weight to carry the shots across your living room.
The score, again an odd semi-throwback - like a b-side to something Tarantino would commission for one of his recent westerns - is arguably the biggest component in the whole affair, providing a persistent, at times insistent accompaniment to the proceedings. Whilst not demo quality, it's a decent, at times impressively boisterous audio track.
ExtrasA brief 2 minute Behind the Scenes of In the Valley of Violence doesn't really qualify as much in the way of extras, featuring short cast and crew soundbites and b-roll footage of scenes being shot, but nothing substantial in the limited runtime.
Blu-ray VerdictA throwback Western with great aspirations which doesn't quite deliver
The Region B locked UK Blu-ray release is also somewhat lacklustre, with a look that suits the piece but is inherently soft around the edges, and a 2 minute extra, but at least the audio is good, and fans of the recent resurgence in Westerns should definitely check it out.
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