I watched a lot of movies when I was at my dad's two weekends ago, because it was too hot for anyone to be outside. And most of them, I don't have any strong impressions of. In a Valley of Violence isn't that lucky. A Western about a guy taking revenge on a group of assholes, it's a poor addition to the list of movies like that.
Paul (Ethan Hawke) is traveling the West, running away from his experiences in the cavalry, and from his own bad decisions, with just his horse and dog, Abby, for companionship. They're forced to stop in the town of Denton for water and food, and while he waits in the saloon for the owner of the general store to return, he comes to the notice of a Gilly (James Ransone), who is a snotty punk who thinks he's hot stuff, and has to prove it if anyone doesn't agree. When Paul doesn't agree, Gilly challenges him to a fistfight, and with his friends and girlfriend Ellen (Karen Gillan) looking on, gets laid out in one punch (but not until he starts making threats towards the dog).
Now, an intelligent person, having humiliated this guy in front of his friends, even if you were gentler than he deserved and stopped at the one punch, would opt to get himself, his horse, and his dog out of town. Paul opts to get those provisions he was after. OK, fine, gotta eat. Then you would certainly leave town in a hurry. But no, Paul goes to the hotel and asks for a bath. He intends to sleep in the wilderness again, but still, he has to have a bath right now. While this gives him a chance to make friends with Mary-Anne, Ellen's sister, who hates Gilly, this means he's in town for a much longer time. Long enough to meet Gilly's father, the marshal (John Travolta), who thankfully just wants him out of town. More critically, he doesn't get very far before nightfall, meaning Gilly and his cronies find him easily, and kill his dog. Slowly. By repeatedly stabbing it. While mocking him for deserting, and letting down people who relied on him, like his dog.
So Gil and his friends have certainly earned their deaths. But Paul, having settled on this course, proceeds to fuck around at it. He kills one guy fairly quickly, but then, once the others are aware of his presence, and one takes to high ground, tries to force him to shoot the others. Rather than just, you know, killing them himself. Sure, it has a certain vicious poetry to it, but because the guy wouldn't do it, the others reached cover, which made it more likely one of them would get a lucky shot. At the end of the day, Gilly is the one he really wants to kill, the one the audience really wants to see get it, so get the others out of the way so you can focus on him.
Eventually, he and Gilly are facing off in the street with the marshal between them trying to talk everyone down, and they open fire, mostly succeeding only in shooting the marshal. It was hard to tell if they're just that bad at shooting, or they were as tired of him talking as the rest of us. For a guy the marshal perceives as being so terribly dangerous, Paul is a fuck-up at vengeance. A Charles Bronson character would have killed these dumbasses four times over. The high point of the movie was at the very end, when this exchange between my dad and I had him doubled over laughing for at least 30 seconds:
Me: I hope you aren't planning to give him a bath. The tub is still full of fat, naked dead guy.
Dad: That's a fitting epitaph for this piece of crap.