It starts with a love story, moves on to a bit of family drama and slowly treads onto a different path, of character study. And that turn is taken all of a sudden eventually putting your thoughts on why Norton chose to do this movie, to rest. This is a nice movie, not a good or great film but a nice one. Not for a second does it care whether it will appeal to people or not. A daring move by screenwriter-director David Jacobson at such a trivial stage of his career.
The lead, Harlan is an interesting character played by one of Hollywood's most interesting actors, Edward Norton. Harlan is the kind of guy who can just feel and act on an impulse. He doesn't think, foresee or fear anything, let alone regret. However, he visualizes a life he fancies, that of a cowboy by affecting a folksy, cowboy style with his cowboy hat, cowboy boots and jeans. Whether he is delusional or not, isn't brought to notice, giving us the prospect to understand him by ourselves rather than from the director's eyes. This is why it feels like a REAL film. Loose ends are left deliberately and these particular elements which are considered minor are what gives us more scope to get really close to the film. When it comes to Norton's performance, it is flawless, consistent and played without stint.
Evan Rachelwood, although perfectly cast, does a fair job in portraying a rebellious teenager filled with contempt for her father. It is reminiscent to her performance in The Wrestler for which she was probably cast after making an impact in this film. David Morse as her conservative and protective father, does a decent job as well. There isn't more to say about their performances except that they were far outweighed by that of Norton.
This film reminded me of A Streetcar Named Desire where Vivien Leigh is a deranged person whose imagination seamlessly interweave with her real world. Harlan suffers from the same problem, only at a relatively smaller level. He also cites a reference to the Martin Scorsese masterpiece "Taxi Driver." Norton being one of the producers himself had a zealous belief in the script, the director and the film just as he did in "25th hour" and "The Painted Veil" which as a result became outstanding films. Down in the valley is a rare delight to movie buffs and shouldn't be missed, especially by Norton fans.