Director John Herzfeld’s film is about old guys. It’s about guys who knew people in World War II. It’s about guys that respect women. It’s about honor…and other things.
Herzfeld, directing a script he also wrote, interweaves the lives of two cops, an Olympic hopeful, a cold-hearted killer, a to-die-for Swede, a down-on-his-luck pizza-smith, an over-the-hill filmmaker, and some others.
The movie is surprisingly short and surprisingly easy to watch considering the territory Herzfeld and crew cover during its 104 minutes. There is a story that doesn’t dovetail nicely with the others, though. It’s about one of the cops, Alvin Strayer (Jeff Daniels), and it captures the detail-orientedness of the film: we’ve been introduced to Officer Strayer previously and we see that he has strong convictions about what should and should not be allowed to happen in the Valley (more specifically, San Fernando Valley). In this later scene, we find that he has been relieved of his duty as he is wrapping a gift for his child. He signs the giant, over-compensatory card “I LOVE YOU, your 1st DADDY.” He doesn’t like the massage parlor that has opened in the Valley and he doesn’t like the liberal streak his partner, Wes Taylor (Eric Stoltz) exhibits. Alvin Strayer is a character who can’t move on. He can’t face the past and feels cheated in the present.
Some of the characters in Valley have already been where Strayer is. They all have apparent timelines in which they’ve achieved, made a break for something, lost something or someone, and moved on. In short, Valley achieves the incredible feat of making an absorbing plot with life stuff. It has a plot, but the characters aren’t bent and shaped by it. They simply live it.