|Director: John Herzfeld
|Screenplay: John Herzfeld
|Stars: Danny Aiello (Dosmo Pizzo), Greg Cruttwell (Allan Hopper), Jeff Daniels (Alvin Strayer), Teri Hatcher (Becky Foxx), Glenne Headly (Susan Parish), Peter Horton (Roy Foxx), Marsha Mason (Audrey Hopper), Paul Mazursky (Teddy Peppers), James Spader (Lee Woods), Eric Stoltz (Wes Taylor), Charlize Theron (Helga)
|MPAA Rating: R
|Year of Release: 1996
Although it has since achieved a cult status all its own, when John Herzfeld’s 2 Days in the Valley opened in 1996, it was deep in the shadow of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), the hipster-criminal-cool nadir of postmodern narrative play. Even if we recognize the original and uniquely clever aspects of Herzfeld’s film, there are simply too many similarities to Tarantino’s striking Palm d’Or winner to ignore: a plot of interlocking stories, a pair of bickering hitmen, an overly ambitious professional athlete, a gritty San Fernando Valley setting, and Eric Stoltz (although here he plays a cop instead of a drug dealer).
Tarantino comparisons aside, 2 Days in the Valley is a darkly enjoyable, but uneven film, one that offers a lot of crude pleasures, but one that also sometimes leave you scratching your head. It has its darkly funny moments and there is good suspense woven throughout, but at other times it feels unduly cruel and derivative, and its overall effect is one of diminishing rewards. It starts out with great promise, hits a peak near the middle, and then comes a bit unraveled in the last third. The smart and invigorating plot contains a handful of crafty surprises, but it only sustains itself for about two/thirds of the film.
To outline the plot in too much detail would detract from the pleasures the film has to offer because each detail, character interaction, and plot turn is significant (although not always immediately so). I can tell you that the focal point of the film is a murder by a slick, sadistic professional hitman named Lee Woods (James Spader) and his older, more humane partner, Dosmo Pizzo (Danny Aiello), who has just come out of retirement. The victim is a man of deeply questionably character named Roy Foxx (Peter Horton), and he is shot in bed next to his ex-wife, Becky (Teri Hatcher), an aspiring Olympic skiier. And, while the hit seems to a success, not everything is what it seems. Through a series of conveniences, contrivances, more contrivances, and plain bad luck, a whole cast of characters winds up having some involvement in the murder and its aftermath, including two vice squad cops (a very scruffy-looking Jeff Daniels and a very clean-cut Eric Stoltz), a suicidally depressed movie director (real-life director Paul Mazursky), a smug British art dealer who recently passed a kidney stone (Greg Cruttwell), his dedicated assistant (Glenne Headly), and his half-sister (Marsha Mason). Oh, and did I mention Spader’s icy Norwegian lover, Helga (Charlize Theron in her screen debut)?
On paper, this sounds like a potential mess, but Herzfeld manages to make an interesting and lively script out of all the characters, carefully placing them at crucial plot points so they can get in on or get wrapped up in the action. And, while the characters are mostly broad types who are defined by one or two quirky character traits, Herzfeld develops several of them into endearing figures, particularly Aiello’s aging hitman and Mazursky’s depressed auteur (who uses his Emmy Award as a toilet paper holder). All of the characters are driven by some kind of frustration, whether it be Stoltz’s desire to be a homicide detective or Hatcher’s anger with narrowly missing the Olympic ski team. Most of the characters get their due by the end in one way or another, although a few are just kind of abandoned.
The centrality of frustration in the film is not surprising given Herzfeld’s own career at that point. After spending most of the 1970s as a bit actor on television and a few movies, he started writing scripts, which led to his writing-directing debut, the notorious box-office disaster Two of a Kind (1982), which reunited Grease stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. He then toiled for more than a decade helming made-for-television movies, many of them ripped from the tabloid headlines (hello, Amy Fisher!), before he returned to the big screen with 2 Days in the Valley, for which he was able to assemble a surprisingly impressive cast. And, while it is no Pulp Fiction (there’s that Tarantino comparison again …), 2 Days in the Valley is witty and bracing enough in its own right, with Herzfeld taking a genre and working it to his own engaging ends.
|2 Days in the Valley Special Edition Blu-ray
|English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surroundEnglish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround
|Audio commentary by writer/director John HerzfeldSylvester Stallone and John Herzfeld conversationQ&A at Cinefamily with Herzfeld, actors Charlize Theron and Glenne Headly, production designer Catherine Hardwicke, event organizer Scott Ray and host/CineFamily co-founder Hadrian Belove“The Making of 2 Days in the Valley archival featurette Archival B-rollsArchival cast and crew soundbitesTheatrical trailer
|November 14, 2023
|I hadn’t seen 2 Days in the Valley since its original non-anamorphic DVD release more than 20 years ago, so seeing Kino Lorber’s excellent new Blu-ray was something of a revelation. The cinematography by veteran Oliver Wood, who had worked with Michael Mann on more than 50 episodes of Miami Vice and would go on to shoot the first three Bourne films, was much better looking than I remembered, with those hazy shots of the Valley offering a palpable sense of presence. Kino has gone back to the original 35mm camera negative for a new 4K scan, which looks excellent: good color, detail, and contrast with a nice sheen of grain that looks great in motion. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack is very good, as well, with nice separation to immerse us in the Los Angeles urban environment and give some space and depth to the bluesy-rock infused soundtrack by Anthony Marinelli (which replaced the original orchestral soundtrack composed by Jerry Goldsmith).
Kino has also given this release a healthy dose of new supplements, starting with a highly entertaining and informative audio commentary by writer/director John Herzfeld. Herzfeld also appears in a 35-minute video conversation with a cigar-chomping Sylvester Stallone, which would seem to be an entirely random pairing until you learn that they met as college students at the University of Miami and were closely connected during their early careers in the 1970s. And, if that doesn’t give you enough background info, the disc also includes half an hour of video footage of a Q&A following a screening of the film at Cinefamily with Herzfeld, actors Charlize Theron and Glenne Headly (Danny Aiello joins remotely via the phone), production designer Catherine Hardwicke, event organizer Scott Ray and host/CineFamily co-founder Hadrian Belove. A 6-minute archival making-of featurette offers some nice interview snippets with cast and crew during the making of the film, as do 7 minutes of archival B-rolls and cast and crew soundbites.
Copyright © 2023 James Kendrick
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