Down in the Valley

(2006) ** 1/2 R
125 min. ThinkFilm. Director: David Jacobson. Cast: Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, Bruce Dern, Rory Culkin, David Morse.
Though the film around it is often ungainly, an interesting idea lives at the heart of David Jacobson's Down in the Valley. When controlling parents alienate their children, they create an environment susceptible to the dangerous influence of free spirits. Blinded by a yearning to escape, children will find a Pied Piper of their choice who—consciously or not—exerts a pull by his serene liberty of lifestyle. In Down in the Valley, David Morse's hot-tempered So-Cal sheriff bonds his kids in opposition to him. So when teenage Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) hooks up with Edward Norton's notably older cowboy, both she and her kid brother (Rory Culkin) see a happy alternative to Dad's sour leadership. Unfortunately for all involved, Norton's courtly cowboy isn't as benign as he first appears. Jacobson inventively grafts Western archetypes onto his urban domestic drama, and the ill fit of the two is entirely the point. But when plot overwhelms character in the film's second half, Jacobson begins to settle for easy gestures, like telegraphing Norton's inner life with a mirror monologue unadvisedly cribbed from Taxi Driver.
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