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Down in the Valley (R)

Release Date: May 5th, 2006 (Angelika Film Center) by THINKfilm.
The Cast: Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, Rory Culkin, Bruce Dern.
Directed by David Jacobson.

BASIC PREMISE: Tobe (Wood) and her younger brother Lonnie (Culkin) befriend a strange man named Harlan (Norton) against the wishes of their father (Morse).

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Set in the San Fernando valley of Southern California, Down in the Valley begins as a May-December romance between Tobe, a beautiful yet confused teenager and Harlan, a mysterious yet charming man who thinks he’s a cowboy. Evan Rachel Wood plays Tobe with as much conviction as her performance in Thirteen, where she also played a confused teenager. David Morse also gives a good performance as Tobe’s father, a sheriff who, obviously, doesn’t trust his daughter spending time with Harlan. What makes the plot suspenseful, at first, is trying to figure out whether or not Harlan has a hidden agenda or if he’s really sweet and sincere as he seems. Edward Norton finds a nice balance between being sane and insane— the kind of performance which he honed quite well in Primal Fear. In a chilling, foreshadowing scene, Harlan shows Tobe’s younger brother, Lonnie, how to shoot a gun. Gradually throughout the second act, writer/director David Jacobson increases the tension between Harlan and Tobe’s father to the extent that he strictly prohibits Tobe from seeing him regardless of her feelings. She doesn’t obey him and that’s around the time when Harlan, predictably, expresses his angry, darker side. The third act briefly changes gears into the action genre and ends up feeling too over-the-top and unnatural.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: The basic message is that one should think twice before letting a stranger with a shady past into one's life. Tobe is clearly confused about her feelings and needs attention, so she connects with Harlan the minute he pays attention to her--in bed as well. Just like many troubled teenagers, she’s a bit quixotic in the sense that she thinks she can be happy with a strange, moody man nearly twice her age. If only she had listened to her father because, in the case (as in most cases), fathers know best. Concurrently, her father could be partly blamed for not communicating with his daughter well enough to see eye-to-eye with her. He seems like an arrogant bully by the way he expresses himself, but he means well and innately knows just how deceptive people can be.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: A contrived, over-the-top third act.


IN A NUTSHELL: Evan Rachel Wood shines! Edward Norton gives a terrific performance! Suspenseful and engaging until an over-the-top third act.

RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)

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