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DVD ReviewA lot of talented actors will show up in just about anything that guarantees a paycheck. Edward Norton is much different from most great actors, though. He is as particular as they come when choosing roles, let alone scripts to read. After an interminably long layoff (he last had top billing in 2002's 25th Hour), Norton is seemingly making 2006 his comeback year—he gives an Oscar-worthy performance in The Illusionist, is featured in the upcoming The Painted Veil, and fronts Down in the Valley, which received a very limited theatrical release, and is now hitting DVD.
Harlan (Norton) is a bit of a loner who works at a local gas station in the San Fernando Valley. Teenager Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) is a normal kid who likes to go to the beach with her friends, and lives in a decent house with her father (David Morse) and younger brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin). When they stop for gas on their way to bask in the sun, Tobe locks eyes with Harlan and invites him along for the day. By the time they're in the car on the way home, Tobe and Harlan are locking lips. Her father doesn't approve of Harlan, suspecting that there's something rotten under his surface. Unfortunately, Tobe might be in far too deep to turn back on her new man.
The one thing that is instantly clear from the opening 10 minutes is that Edward Norton is back in fine form. His work here is a reminder of how much he's missed when he takes these long layoffs. As Harlan, Norton brings to mind his unforgettable turn in Primal Fear, where his character is far from what he initially appears to be. This wannabe cowboy is difficult to figure out even in the end. We're never sure if he really does care for Tobe, or even Lonnie, whom he takes under his wing in a way the young boy's father has never done. Norton impresses throughout, and, despite the script's shortcomings, makes Harlan another unforgettable notch in his acting belt.
Norton gets plenty of support from Evan Rachel Wood, who continues to perform beyond her young years. The infallible David Morse has played this type of fatherly role before, and he's among the best at it. Rory Culkin's role is pretty standard, but he makes the best of it. Wood is the real stand-out, and she's only going to get better.
The setup is extremely engaging, with director David Jacobson (Dahmer) creating an unsettling tone that keeps us guessing about Harlan's true nature and intentions toward Tobe. Then, a pivotal shocking event occurs that changes the direction of the picture completely. Once the shock wears off, we realize there aren't many places the rest of the story can go and still be effective. The obvious result of this event could have made for a sad, revenge-driven finale. Instead, the ultimate cop-out occurs where we're left with a mess that is drained of any emotion, and all we can do is think about how well the movie could have turned out.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: This 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation does a fine job of capturing the lush vistas of the San Fernando Valley, thanks to crystal clear images that are always sharp. There is a slight bit of dirt and grain, but not at all enough to be disruptive. A beautiful, bright color scheme sparkles on the screen, while the contrast and black levels are consistently strong.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: There's both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, with the former the easy choice between the two. Featuring a subdued score that has a few gems gems, the entire mix springs to life when guns are fired. The sound plays a big part during the film's major turning point, and there's even some bass that blends in well with the crisp dialogue and other audio elements.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The King, Little Athens, 10th & Wolf, I Love Your Work
4 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Keep Case
Four deleted scenes lasting nearly nine minutes give us a more in-depth look at the inner workings of Harlan's personality. There's also the theatrical trailer for Down In the Valley and a collection of trailers for other ThinkFilm releases.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsThe little-seen Down in the Valley suffers from a poorly crafted final hour, but does sport another amazing performance from Edward Norton. The DVD features excellent audio and video, and even includes some nice supplements, including a group of deleted scenes.
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