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WHERE WESTERN MYTHS, MODERN VALLEY MEET.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

The valley in David Jacobson's arresting neo-Western ``Down in the Valley'' isn't Red River or Monument, but our very own San Fernando Valley, a basin Jacobson sees as a hell of bleached artificiality that, nonetheless, can contain pockets of unspoiled beauty that hearken back to what we like to call a simpler time.

Or maybe it wasn't all that simple. Jacobson's movie, which he wrote and directed with an assist from star Edward Norton, harshly critiques our romantic notions of a mythic West, proposing that our view of the past, as put forward by movies, leads to nothing less than a corruption of the soul. It's a dead-serious notion that Jacobson backs up by deftly incorporating nods to ``Shane,'' ``Red River'' and ``My Darling Clementine'' into his story. The man knows the dusty trails of this territory.

The movie's bedrock intelligence gives weight to its story of a romance that quickly goes from being sugary sweet to frighteningly unhinged. When restless 18-year-old Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) meets gentle, aw-shucks hayseed Harlan (Norton), it's arrow-through-the-heart time, the union of a couple of pure souls longing for something beyond the strip malls of Ventura Boulevard.

Tobe (short for October) lives with her authoritarian father (David Morse, once again conveying menace like few others can) and little brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin), a kid afraid of the dark and longing for an understanding father figure. Lonnie finds one in Harlan, but Dad takes one look at Harlan's cowboy ``duds'' and his Montgomery Clift-meets-Eddie Haskell schtick and sees a phony.

Does father know best? We're not telling, other than noting that Jacobson not only knows his Westerns but has clearly spent some time watching ``Badlands'' and ``Taxi Driver,'' too. Norton lights up the screen, creating a complex cowpoke lost in every sense of the word, while Wood conveys every bit of the adamant certainty and aching vulnerability inherent in late adolescence. Quite a pair. Quite a movie.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

DOWN IN THE VALLEY - Three stars

(R: sex, language, violence)

Starring: Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse.

Director: David Jacobson.

Running time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino; Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood; Laemmle Monica in Santa Monica.

In a nutshell: Furtive romance between aw-shucks cowboy and Valley girl gives way to powerful critique of our rosy view of the mythic West.

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When restless teen Evan Rachel Wood and hayseed cowboy Edward Norton discover romance, things quickly become unhinged in ``Down in the Valley.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 12, 2006
Words:436
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