The Good, the Bad and the Brilliant
Imagine a Quentin Tarantino movie made by a grownup. A movie fueled by Tarantino's brand of daredevil adrenaline but with none of his schoolboy nihilism. A movie drenched in blood that also understands loss. A swaggering black comedy stuffed with betrayals that still takes time to glimpse the soul of a weary old hitman who likes to cook and the higher instincts of an angry wife embroiled in a life-insurance scam.
Deep down, John Herzfeld's 2 Days in the Valley is about failure and redemption--pretty time-worn subjects, no?--but there's nothing predictable, soft or sappy about it. Like Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, it can blindside us with manic violence, but a moment later we're laughing at the pretensions of a trendy art dealer with a house stuffed full of overpriced trash. No sooner do we recoil from the sadism of a killer who measures out the last minute of each victim's life with a stopwatch than we are taken in by a suicidal Hollywood writer who's trying to find a new home for his dog before he pulls the trigger.
Until now, Herzfeld was probably regarded most highly for TV's slightly soggy, real-life AIDS drama, The Ryan White Story. But Valley might signal his arrival as a distinctive new filmmaker. Tarantino comparisons aside, this smart, dark, fiendishly funny picture looks and feels like nothing else out there. But then, how many movies are inspired by a visit to a cemetery, then written in a four-week frenzy? And how many big casts this uniformly gifted seem to get so much pleasure from their work?
Here's news from the Left Coast: L.A.'s oft-maligned San Fernando Valley--the valley of the title--conceals a vivid gallery of characters. The good hitman is Dosmo Pizzo (Danny Aiello), a beat-up ex-gambler whose bad wig doesn't fit but whose courtly demeanor bespeaks a gentleman; the bad hitman is Lee Woods (James Spader, back where he belongs), the savage with the stopwatch. The good bad girl is Becky Foxx (Lois and Clark's Teri Hatcher), a failed Olympic ski racer who's put a contract on her nasty hubby; the bad bad girl is Helga Svelgen (Charlize Theron), a leggy blond Viking with a taste for blood. The good cop is Wes Taylor (Eric Stoltz), who wants out of vice and into homicide; the bad cop is Alvin Strayer (Jeff Daniels), who's psychologically unfit to serve but has his reasons.
Real-life writer/director Paul Mazursky is the fictional fallen writer/director Teddy Peppers, a heartbeat away from ending his life; Glenne Headly is Susan, a loyal secretary abused by Greg Cruttwell's insufferable egotist of an art dealer--until Dosmo the hitman falls for her. Marsha Mason is Audrey Hopper, a nurse who grieves for her dead lover until the depressed writer/director Teddy Peppers finds new life in her.
They're all thrown together by a botched murder plot, a big helping of greed and a hostage-taking. In varying degrees, they're all losers--good and bad alike--and some among them will get a second chance to win. To say more might ruin the fun or blunt the danger. Suffice it to say that Herzfeld is a clever fellow indeed, that his plot twists are dazzling and that this enthusiastic, richly talented cast--every man and woman involved--lights up 2 Days in the Valley like a fireworks display.
Shopping for an adventurous new look this fall? Here's a choice, in deftly mixed tones of terror, wit and sweet-tempered generosity.--Gallo
2 Days in the Valley.
Written and directed by John Herzfeld. With Danny Aiello, James Spader, Teri Hatcher, Paul Mazursky, Charlize Theron and Greg Cruttwell.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.