Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 8, 2020)
Given its title as well as a tagline that reads “Worlds Will Collide”, 2019’s Valley of the Gods sounds like it should offer an action/sci-fi effort. Instead, it brings a quirky character drama.
Wes Tauros (John Malkovich) amasses an estate worth trillions, but this doesn’t seem to satisfy him. Always eager to amass more wealth, he feels determined to mine Navajo territory for uranium.
Middle class journalist John Ecas (Josh Hartnett) endeavors to write a biography of Tauros, and this gives him an up-close view of the battle for the sacred lands. Tauros finds himself beset by legendary forces that he couldn’t anticipate, and Ecas documents these events.
That’s what we call a deceptive plot synopsis, mainly because it makes Valley look a lot more straightforward and linear than it is. In truth, this turns into abstract movie that rarely seems to demonstrate any discernible purpose.
Unless you just enjoy this kind of visual-oriented, semi-surreal experience, I guess. I can appreciate a movie that eschews traditional filmmaking to a degree, but I need to find some point to that work, and I struggle to do so with Valley.
Oh, I’m sure writer/director Lech Majewski came into Valley with clear goals, so I don’t believe he intended to make an impenetrable tale. However, Majewski can’t find a way to make much of this seem clear, as the only apparent message we take from the film equals “rich people bad, poor people good”.
And even that seems like a backdrop to the meandering nothingness we usually confront. Whatever purpose Majewski wants to pursue, the movie seems so stuck on its quirky sensibility and visual focus that we never grab hold of the meaning.
Valley often feels like an attempt to out-Malick Terrence Malick. The latter filmmaker’s influence seems abundantly clear, as Malick loves long films with lavish photography and loose narratives.
Even by Malick standards, though, Valley seems too unfocused. It comes across as loose plot and character ideas tossed into a blender and cobbled together without much real care for how matters progress.
Valley offers the kind of film in which we get no meaningful dialogue for its first 17 minutes, and even after that, the lines usually mean little. When we do find comments from the characters, the movie tends toward monologues with language that no one would actually use.
When Valley attempts insights, it seems feeble. For instance, at one point, we get the “deep” observation that people prefer the safety of their own little prisons versus the challenges of a more complex world. That’s a revelation?
Perhaps Valley comes chock full of meaning and emotion and I’m just too much of a dope to understand it. Or perhaps it offers a dull, pretentious bore that mistakes incoherence for substance. I lean toward the latter view.