'Valley of the Gods' Review: Josh Hartnett and John Malkovich's performance fails to save the unrealistic plot
A lot of things happen that give one an eerie sense of unreality but the movie touches so lightly on the plot that it is never clear how these things are happening or for what purpose
Spoilers for 'Valley of the Gods'
Lech Majewski's latest movie, 'Valley of the Gods', starring Josh Hartnett and John Malkovich is quite an experience with its brilliant visuals and heavy use of allegory. However, the film isn't for everybody, with its surrealism often overpowering the narrative.
'Valley of the Gods' has an almost disjointed feel to it. A lot of things happen that give one an eerie sense of unreality but the movie touches so lightly on the plot that it is never clear how these things are happening or for what purpose. However, what the movie does deliver is a couple of brilliant landscapes, alternating between an opulent castle and the harsh landscapes of the western United States. If nothing else, the movie will give you a deep desire to go experience those very real places and find some of that surreal beauty for yourself. Unfortunately, we're not going anywhere with the Covid-19 pandemic still going strong so even that ends up being a frustrating feeling. In the end, that's what the movie leaves us feeling, extremely frustrated.
There are so many scenes of rituals (including one that involves catapulting a car off a mountain) that just happen for no rhyme or reason. The Navajo mythology, which is an intricate narrative, to begin with, is depicted in a complex, mystical way that leaves the audience feeling a little confused. It would take a very particular mood and state of mind for the viewer to truly enjoy this film. And that's despite the brilliance of the cast.
Josh Hartnett really pours himself into the role of a divorced writer who has taken a decision to embrace the absurd things in life. He feels almost like he's been ripped out of the pages of an Albert Camus story, actively doing ridiculous things like walking backward wearing a blindfold and taking up a job writing the biography of the world's richest man, a trillionaire named Wes Tauros played by John Malkovich.
Malkovich doesn't really get to express the full extent of his abilities as an actor, mostly because his character is almost always in the middle of something so fantastical that it drowns out every other element of the story. And that's basically the problem with the movie. There's something great and artistic hinted at here but Majewski has chosen to rely more on his thematic and allegorical devices than the actors at his disposal. The movie is almost like a painting but then we're not trying to watch a painting are we? The necessary elements of dialogue and coherent narrative barely make an appearance and it, unfortunately, leaves one feeling if it was really worth the time it took to watch it.
'Valley of the Gods' is available via video-on-demand.