Thursday, May 25, 2006

Down in the Valley (2006)

Seeing this the day after The Proposition was an interesting contrast. Both films take the idea of Western gentility and spin it on its head. But where the blood-and-thunder Proposition makes its intent clear from the outset, David Jacobson's paeon to the past and future Los Angeles is content to work on the sly for a while. The first half, detailing a strange May-December romance between high school student Evan Rachel Wood and ersatz cowboy Edward Norton, is a beguiling and carefully detailed portrait of teen rebellion and fantasy. Its effect (which is in no way harmed by its Lolita overtones) is subtle yet important -- it seduces us into accepting the world Jacobson's built so that we can be equipped to handle the gradual shifting of the character landscape. Imperceptibly at first, Jacobson's focus shifts from Wood to Norton, so that the fantasy becomes just that -- a fantasy that should (and must) be punctured. The friendly veneer of Norton hides a dark menace. What's extraordinary about the way Norton essays his character Harlan is that this darkness seems accidental; even through his impulse-control difficulties, Harlan genuinely believes his actions to be right and justifiable. The other actors are similarly inspired, with Ms. Wood in particular becoming more credible as a serious actress every time I see her; Rory Culkin is also excellent in a pivotal and difficult role as Wood's clingy younger brother, who desperately needs to believe in someone. The schism between the sensitive first half and the starker second half has turned off a lot of people, but I see it as an essential part of Jacobson's thesis. As the film moves further away from pure realism into the realm of metaphor, Jacobson's film bares itself as a treatise on myth. He means to show us the perils of believing in myths -- the myth of the cowboy gentleman, the myth of the runaway schoolgirl, the myth of frontier justice, and above all the myth of L.A. itself, the city where urbania conquered the desert sprall of the West.

Grade: A-


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home