4 Stars
Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 23 minutes
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“The Valley of the Dead Oaks” is writer/director Colin Bannon’s best work to date, and it’s set just after the Civil War, which makes it a hard film for an independent director on a budget to pull off convincingly.

James Early (Michael Hayes) was a sharpshooter in the Civil War. Killing was his business … until one of his stray bullets hit a little girl. His punishment? He gets his shooting hand busted up with a sledgehammer. As Early wanders the woods, haunted by visions of the girl he shot, he encounters Raymond (Mark Dew), an opportunistic vulture of a person. When they find a dead whore at her lean-to, things quickly sour between Raymond and Early as the young man wants to steal her belongings and Early wants to bury her. Early ends up giving Raymond his gun and sends the thief on his way, resigning himself to a slow death in the forest. Later, Raymond meets up with the brother of the girl Early shot and agrees to lead the revenge-seeking man to where he last saw the Civil War legend. The ending is a bit of a twist that nobody could see coming.

Bannon fits a lot into twenty-three minutes, but the story never feels rushed. His pacing is just right, and the characterizations are dead-on. There are lots of stories out there like this, but this one is solid through and through. Men kill for a variety of reasons, and those who are good at it only really have two routes they can go. They can become sadistic monsters or introspective loners who eventually come to accept (and often hate) who they are. Bannon portrays that perfectly here, and shows that “good and rational” people can be as petty and vindictive as any demon you’d find in Hell. Who is the bad guy? Who is good? Does it really matter? Not always. Not here… unless you’re James Early.

Posted on February 19, 2007 in Reviews by

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