Down In The Valley - Review at LA Film Fest

I arrived for the North American premiere of "Down In The Valley" at the ArcLight Theater, just moments before actor Elijah Wood - host of the Los Angeles Film Festival's opening night - and Director David Jacobson welcomed the audience. The lights dimmed as the crowd loudly applauded and whooped. Then the stark white movie screen came to life.

The movie opens with a bird's perspective of the San Fernando Valley - cars crawling along freeways between the parched hills, dried washes and the cement-lined L.A. River snaking through neighborhoods of suburban homes. This is the place I know well, and the very same traffic jammed freeways I drove before being seated in the theater.

Evan Rachel Wood

As the camera lowers, the Valley, through the eyes of Director David Jacobson (who grew up in Van Nuys), is shown as dusty alleys and congested mini-mall cluttered streets under a tangle of telephone wires, and a bombardment of billboards. His camera points North-East, away from the more lavish homes with sparkling, turquoise pools nestled into hills dense with trees and winding roads above the sushi joints and al fresco cappuccino bars of Ventura Boulevard.

Evan Rachel Wood & Ed Norton

Jacobson's Valley appears as beaten and neglected as the people his story soon reveals.

The camera enters the darkened, cluttered and worn ranch home of dewy-eyed, yet hardened teenager, Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), her timid younger teen brother, Lonnie (Rory Culkin), who rather cling by her side than be alone, and their stern, yet caring, single-father, Wade (David Morse), who works long hours as a correction's officer, leaving the kids alone during the days.

Ed Norton

Beautiful Tobe, seems like a caged cat, restless in her small home and the surrounding weed-strewn streets. As a temporary escape, she and her friends decide to head to the beach, stopping to fill up the gas tank on the way. Harlan Fairfax Carruthers (Edward Norton), a laconic good 'ol boy, saunters over, wearing a cowboy hat and a slanted grin, to fill the gas tank for the teens. He locks eyes with Tobe. The stare lasts so uncomfortably long that the mother in me wanted to scream, "Stop that!" But to my horror, she invites the much-too-old-for-her Harlan to the beach.

Evan Rachel Wood & Ed Norton

For days after, the two become inseparable: crawling into the Valley's honky-tonks, swilling back tequila, popping pills and waking in each other's arms. Tobe seems so desperate for affection, she neglects to see and hear Harlan as he is, but makes him into what she wants him to be. Her father sees through him immediately, and warns Harlan to stay away. Of course, neither Tobe nor Harlan listen.

Evan Rachel Wood & Ed Norton

The rebellious romance floats along with composer, Peter Salett's haunting musical score, Cinematographer Enrique Chediak's stunning and vibrant scenes and Jacobson's often lyrical writing.

Harlan's character slowly becomes questionable, and then moves quickly into scary. Thereafter, the film slides into a much darker story; one that could be titled, "This Is Why You Should Listen To Your Father."

Even Rachel Wood & Rory Culkin

"Down In The Valley" began as an interesting and well-written story, with sporadic moments of subtle humor. But the last third of the film slides from a tainted love story, into a modern-day western, which seems to move a little too slowly at some points. But, in it's its entirety, I did enjoy the movie.

David Morse & Ed Norton

The cast had me immersed in their world. Evan Rachel Wood, as Tobe, convincingly played a desperate Lolita-esque teen of heartbreaking sadness; David Morse, as the father, managed to be stern, sometimes brutal, and yet compassionate. Edward Norton, as Harlan, convincingly played a quirky simpleton with dangerous flaws at his core, and Rory Culkin, as Lonnie, carried the sadness of neglect with him like a stain he couldn't scrub off throughout the film. All convinced me that they lived delusional and/or dysfunctional lives in the streets of the Valley.

Evan Rachel Wood & Ed Norton

Jacobson's Valley is not exactly like the one I know, which is somewhere in the middle of the lush hills over Ventura Boulevard and the dusty alleys of the East; not that it doesn't exist. The San Fernando Valley can be appear one way to one person, and another to someone else - much the way Tobe believes Harlan to be something other than he actually is.

Production Credits:
Edward Norton - Producer, Sam Nazarian - Executive Producer, Holly Wiersma - producer, Adam Rosenfelt - Producer, Stavros Merjos - Producer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone - Production Designer, Jay Faires - Composer (Music Score), Enrique Chediak - Cinematographer, Lynzee Klingman - Editor, David Jacobson - Screenwriter, Director

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