All Dressed Up

Down in the Valley

Edward Norton, David Morse, Evan Rachel Wood, and Rory Culkin star in a film written and directed by David Jacobson.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

This is a frustrating film. I could recommend it quite highly on the strength of Edward Norton’s performance, or David Morse’s, or on the strength of it being an exceptionally well-made independent film that takes risks in terms of its subject matter and characters.

First-time director David Jacobson gets us involved and caring about his story with breathtaking economy. Norton’s character puts on his hat and sets off walking down a road, as if he had just made the biggest decision of his life. Evan Rachel Wood’s 18-year-old “Tobe” — short for October — strides purposefully out of her house, trailed by her kid brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin), 13, who wants to know where she is going. “Nowhere,” she tells him.

“Can I come?” pleads Lonnie.

Their father Wade (David Morse) comes home in his sheriff’s uniform, calling “Hello” and getting no response. He walks into Tobe’s room and finds her on the phone, with Lonnie sitting on the floor by her bed. She tells Wade sullenly that he ought to knock, and he replies, “I’ll start knocking when you start working.”

So far, so perfect. We are five minutes into the film, and already we are taking sides. But, alas, this is not about a dysfunctional, single-parent family. Wade is not the heavy; he is not abusing either of his children. He admires Tobe because she has “gumption,” but worries about her because he knows how easy it is for headstrong adolescents to get into trouble.

This is enough story for me, these troubled people working it out, but Jacobson has something else in mind. He throws a person into the mix who is really crazy, and that kind doesn’t work things out. You can’t say what happens next, but you know how it will end. So, I lose interest.

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