Old, New Western ideals blend well `Down in the Valley'

review B+

When worlds collide `Down in the Valley'

May 19, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Through much of Down in the Valley, Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood and their writer-director, David Jacobson, do exactly what movie artists should do: transport audiences to risky places with deceptive ease, gliding on feeling and intuition. As a cowboy named Harlan who ambles into the contemporary San Fernando Valley with a couple of shirts and a duffel filled with gear, Norton creates a walking pocket of calm in the dull suburban roar of engines and air conditioners. As a Valley Girl named Tobe (for October) who says she's been waiting for life to happen and doesn't know what will start it, Wood ferments yearning and concupiscence into essence-of-adolescence. Tobe has never seen anything like Harlan's grown yet boyish man - polite, reticent and erotically aware. When she takes him in with her beaming eyes and then kisses and embraces him, he doesn't know what hit him.

The balance between his courtliness and her readiness, the never-stressed unbalance of their ages and the juxtaposition of her conventional background and his mystery give the initial hour of Down in the Valley the unexpected sensual lilt of a lithe, spontaneous dance. The chasm that separates the Old Westerner's integrity and instinct and the New Westerner's dull aggression and conformity comes out in the interplay of Harlan, Tobe, her younger brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin) and their embattled single dad, Wade (David Morse). Harlan shows Tobe the vestiges of a natural life in an overdeveloped piece of Southern California; Tobe shows Harlan that human potential can grow between the cracks in the asphalt and the pauses in pop rituals.

Down in the Valley (ThinkFilm) Starring Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, Rory Culkin and David Morse. Directed by David Jacobson. Rated R. Time 125 minutes.

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