A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that In a Valley of Violence is a Western by cult horror director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers). Its entire plot centers on an act of cruel violence that's followed by bloody revenge. As a result, there aren't any real takeaways outside of: Don't mess with a man's dog. Expect lots of gun violence, gory/bloody killings, and dead bodies. A dog is harmed, and a man kicks and shoves women. There's also fighting, beating, and a scary war-related flashback/nightmare. Language is occasionally quite strong, with sporadic uses of "f--k," "c---sucker," "s--t," "ass," and more; there's also some fat-shaming and racial/cultural stereotyping. A minor character is portrayed as a drunk, and other characters occasionally drink whiskey and/or smoke cigars. Men are seen bathing, with nothing sensitive shown, and there's an attempted kiss and some cuddling between two characters.
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What's the story?
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE finds ex-soldier Paul (Ethan Hawke) traveling with his faithful dog. He's sworn off killing and is now simply hoping to get to Mexico to live a quiet life. But Paul makes the mistake of stopping for water in a dismal little town called Denton, where he meets pretty young hotel clerk Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga). He also has a run-in with the local bully, Gilly (James Ransone). Paul beats Gilly in a fair fight, and, after a stern lecture by Gilly's father, Marshal Clyde Martin (John Travolta), Paul heads on his way. But when Gilly and his men brutally attack Paul in the desert, he vows revenge. He heads back into town without a plan -- and most certainly facing a fierce fight. Will Paul go through with his revenge? And will he survive?
Is it any good?
West -- a superior horror director -- adapts his skills to the Western genre and comes up with a simple revenge-based film, baked in his singular style, with plenty of amusing, amazing touches. With its big, red opening-credits sequence and Jeff Grace's thumping, thundering score, In a Valley of Violence is clearly inspired by Sergio Leone, but it ultimately feels more like a tense, economic B movie than it does a sprawling epic. As he did in his great horror films The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, West favors a slow-burn technique, spending time watching the characters talking or simply being before moving ahead.
This allows for many unexpected moments of humor -- as well as surprising moments of violence. (A war-related flashback/nightmare reveals West's horror roots.) It also allows for a rounded performance by Hawke, who's perfect as a stoic loner, and a fun one by Travolta as a wise, cautious lawman. And although women rarely figure much into the Western genre, Farmiga is delightfully chattery and headstrong. The movie's plot recalls many other films (especially, almost note-for-note, John Wick), but West makes this movie all his own. It's a worthy addition to a classic genre.
Talk to your kids about ...
Do the movie's characters have any other motivation besides revenge? How does that affect how you see them and their actions?
Is Gilly a bully? Why does he do what he does? How is he dealt with?
Did you notice any stereotypes in the film? Are they accurate for the time period it's set in? Does that make it OK?
What's the appeal of the Western genre? How has it changed in its 100+ years of existence? How does this movie compare to other Westerns you've seen?
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