Since The House of the Devil, Ti West has been on a one-man mission to grind genre cinema to a snail's speed, especially with his character-driven The Innkeepers, whose protagonist's boredom leads to few, measured frights. This is actually admirable -- I know I'm tired of successive jump cuts, CGI, shaky cam and other techniques used to rev up most plot-based horror films. Unfortunately, West may not be the writer/director to pull it off. His newest is a Western, In a Valley of Violence, and it suffers from the issues that have plagued his recent films; a slow approach requires careful atmosphere-building, and these days West is actually stronger at writing funny dialogue than he is at creating atmosphere.
Ethan Hawke plays Paul, a character that shares some similarities with the actor's Goodnight Robicheaux from Antoine Fuqua's Magnificent Seven remake -- both fought in the war and are haunted by the violence they witnessed and perpetrated. Paul and his dog Abby are just passing through a nearly deserted town when local ass-clown macho man Gilly (James Ransone) challenges him to a fight. The second he knocks Gilly out, Paul is forever intertwined with the town and its marshal (John Travolta). He's pushed to his edge and chooses revenge when the gang tries to murder him.
The plot of a genre film doesn't have to be original if the execution is compelling and the characters are full of messy human traits. The execution, here, is on the shabby side, the framing mundane and the editing plodding. Throughout, I got the sense that these characters have little at stake, even when the film insists otherwise.