Down in the Valley
A fever dream of contemporary ennui poached in an aromatic sauce of lofty allusions and ambitious ideas, writer/director David Jacobsonís Down in the Valley fails more often than it succeeds, but when it works it is a transfixing thing of beauty. High-school senior Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) lives listlessly dysfunctional with her meek younger brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin) and her Army veteran-turned-corrections officer, single-father Wade (David Morse) in Californiaís sunny, if aimless, San Fernando Valley. One day she runs across a charming young ranch hand, Harlan (Edward Norton), who has some years on her but feels much more innocent. Their emerging romanceóand Harlanís a sympathetic surrogate older brother to Lonnieópits the soft-spoken, seemingly harmless Harlan against Wade, who senses something amiss about the young drifterís incorrigible kindness. And in a performance that starts in naive Joe Buck sincerity and slowly inches into pathological Travis Bickle purposefulness, Nortonís Harlan is a furtive figure, a man of his own reactionary creation following some earlier incidents that Valley slowly discloses in shadowy asides. Had Jacobson not marinated his story and imagery in such unmistakable western nods, Valley might become the cult moment of generational angst itís trying to be. As it is, though, Valley bites off more than it can chew, achieving some genuinely sublime instances along the way.