Movie review: ‘2 Days in the Valley’

2ditv2 Days in the Valley” is another one of those films I missed in the theaters and was completely blown away by its drama and power when I did see it on DVD. “2 Days in the Valley” is a tough, violent R-rated film, but offers outstanding performances of a spectrum of actors from up-and-coming (Charlize Theron) to established (Jeff Daniels) to Oscar nominees and winners (Paul Mazursky, Marsha Mason and Louise Fletcher, just to name three). “2 Days in the Valley” is a crime story; it’s an intersection story; and it’s a dramatic story – all told as well as it can be told on film. Hold on tight here for a rough ride because this one won’t just blow you away … it will impress the heck out of you.

‘2 Days in the Valley’
(1996; 104 minutes; rated R; directed by John Herzfeld and starring Teri Hatcher, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello and James Spader)

A ROUGH, TOUGH FILM THAT HITS ON ALL CYLINDERS

(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional opinion as well as updating some links on March 31, 2016.)

The depth of the cast of “2 Days in the Valley” is the first clue to just how good this film could be, but, when you watch it, you become even more impressed as each minute passes. Every subplot is layered and director John Herzfeld knows film storytelling through nuance and characters and not just tossing out a stereotype. Plus, every actor looks to be giving every bit of his or her talent to this one.

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2 Days in the Valley” is the story of crime and crimes told as an intersection film: a number of people are brought together by fate and circumstance over two days. Each one’s story is deep and mostly troubled, from the psychopathic killer (James Spader) to the angry cop (Jeff Daniels) to the former mob member who’s the pawn but doesn’t initially realize it (Danny Aiello).

The plot revolves around Spader, who plays demented killer “Lee Woods,” and Aiello, who plays bad guy-with-a-heart “Dozmo Pizzo,” going to the home of “Desperate Housewives’” Teri Hatcher, who plays former Olympian “Becky Foxx.” It’s a plot to eliminate Hatcher’s ex-husband and for Spader and his girlfriend “Helga Svelgen,” played by then 21-year-old newcomer Charlize Theron, to get money without Foxx being implicated in some mysterious espionage plot.

At the same time, other pieces of the puzzle are coming together: failed director “Teddy Peppers,” played by real life and not failed director Paul Mazursky, is suicidal, but still manages to hook up with Marsha Mason, who plays “Audrey Hopper.” She’s the sister of insufferable stuffed shirt Greg Cruttwell, who plays “Allan Hopper.” He’s an egotistical jerk who has just suffered with a kidney stone and needs her help.

All of these people come together at Cruttwell’s house. Aiello arrives uninvited as he escapes from being killed by Spader; Mazursky because he’s with Mason coming to Cruttwell’s aid; and Glenne Headley, who plays “Susan Parish,” the assistant to Cruttwell.

Elsewhere in the “Valley” (the San Fernando Valley in Southern California), Hatcher has awoken from her Spader-induced slumber to find her ex- dead and brings in police officers including Daniels, Eric Stolz and Keith Carradine to the growing network of soon-to-be connected dots.

I won’t try to explain all the twists, turns and edges to the plot of “2 Days in the Valley.” Enjoy that for yourself while I address what I see on screen. Here’s a look at the impressive cast:

  • Golden Globe nominee (not for this one) Spader does his creepy best as “Woods.” He is intrigued with his victims’ actions in the last minute of their lives, even keeping a stopwatch clicking off the last seconds. Spader, who has done “Stargate,” “Less than Zero,” “Wall Street,” “Mannequin” (click here for my review) and “Lincoln,” oozes through the role with speed, economy and conviction. He obviously became totally immersed in his character as every look, glance or movement is obviously the killer’s. Plus, his ultra-steamy motel room scene with Theron knocks “2 Days in the Valley” deep into R-rated territory.
  • At the same time, compared to other actors here, Hatcher and Theron do a good job but it’s difficult to reach the level of the others. Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominee (not for this one) Hatcher is good at vulnerable and then cool and calculating, but not much else. She kind of appears, makes a splash and then you don’t see here for some time. She wraps up the film (no spoiler with this news) and a little bit of what-might-have-been for her in this great movie. Hatcher is most famous for TV’s “Desperate Housewives” and was a complete disappointment in the weak 007 thriller “Tomorrow Never Dies” (click here for my review). Still, she’s competent here and that’s all that matters.
  • Oscar winner (not for this one) Theron plays an ice-princess with no obvious ethics or morals (else why would she be with Spader?). Since she’s an ice-princess, Theron doesn’t offer much in a spectrum of emotion, but does take it up a notch in her last scene. As the film races to its climax, Hatcher and Theron have a really outstanding fight scene (some call it one of cinema’s best-ever catfights) in a motel room that triggers the final explosion in “2 Days in the Valley.” She won her Oscar as a serial killer in “Monster” and was nominated for “North Country.” She also played a bit of a cool, haughty girl in a short stint in Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do!” (click here for my review) from the same year as “2 Days in the Valley.”
  • At its heart, the film is Oscar nominee (not for this one) Aiello’s to win or lose … and he doesn’t lose. Aiello, who has had a career of 97 roles including his Oscar-nominated turn in “Do the Right Thing” as well as “Harlem Nights” with Eddie Murphy (click here for my review), “The Godfather: Part II” and in his first role as “Horse” in “Bang the Drum Slowly,” has just the right blend of affability and strength and easily conveys how his character, while supposedly a tough mob hitman, has a decent foundation and has a good sense of fairness. Aiello knows just what note to play as “Dozmo” and while not the most talented actor here, he is top-shelf with this one.
  • Cruttwell does an outstanding job (his accent is perfect for the role) as the self-centered, rich egocentric art dealer. The role is just the right size for the film and Cruttwell, who was also in “George of the Jungle,” retired the year after “2 Days in the Valley” after a short career in Hollywood of only a dozen credits.
  • Oscar winner (not for this one) Mason is as solid as her credentials and helps Mazursky survive both himself and the others. She doesn’t try to overwhelm any scene, but her work makes sure each one she’s in is better than if we had been out. Mason has been nominated for four Oscars (“Cinderella Liberty;” “The Goodbye Girl,” in which Richard Dreyfuss won Best Actor; “Chapter Two;” and “Only When I Laugh”) as well as being in films such as “Heartbreak Ridge” with Clint Eastwood and the wonderful but little-remembered Neil Simon flick “Max Dugan Returns” (click here for my review).
  • Oscar winner (not for this one) Louise Fletcher has a short, but characteristic of this film impressive part as “Evelyn,” who realizes Mazursky is out to die. Second-for-second, this is as good as she can do. After the Oscar for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Fletcher was in films from “Blue Steel” with Jamie Lee Curtis to “Virtuosity.”

A bit lost going along in the film are Daniels, who plays “Det. Alvin Strayer,” and Stolz as “Wes Taylor.” Daniels, who was in “Speed,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “Ragtime,” explodes with anger and resentment in his scenes, but there are not enough of them. Stolz, who was John Travolta’s dealer in “Pulp Fiction,” is the less-than-motivated cop who wants to join homicide and gets one (or two or four) here. Stolz was also in “Mask” and “The Butterfly Effect.”

Still, the two best characters in “2 Days in the Valley” are played by Headley and Mazursky.

  • Headley’s “Susan” is a bit mousey and quite obsequious to her boss. She comes out of her shell not only through her carefully hidden intellect that peeks out upon occasion but by Aiello not putting up with her kowtowing to her boss. It was not easy to convey this, but Headley has a superb sense of how to use each scene to her advantage. Headley was simply terrific in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (click here for my review) and some excellent television including both “Monk” and “Psych” as well as the critically acclaimed HBO movie “And the Band Played On” (click here for my review).
  • As for Mazursky, I’m completely floored that he didn’t at least earn an Oscar nomination as “Teddy Peppers.” He is so natural in the role that it is difficult to believe how accomplished he is behind the camera. He’s also an award-winning screenwriter and it would surprise me if he needed more than one take for any scene. Mazursky conveys compassion and toughness with equal quickness and conviction. It’s an outstanding effort in “2 Days in the Valley” that has no flaws. In his career, Mazursky was been nominated for five Oscars (all writing and one Best Picture for “An Unmarried Woman” – he got a second nomination for that one) and two Golden Globe nominations (one each for writing and directing). As an actor he has been in everything from an episode of TV’s “The Monkees” to films such as “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Moscow on the Hudson,” “The Tempest” and “Carlito’s Way.” He died in June 2014 at the age of 84 of cardiac arrest.

The biggest surprise after Mazursky not getting an Oscar nomination is that “2 Days in the Valley” was a basic bomb at the box office. It ranked 119th for 1996 with $11.1 million. No. 1 for the year was “Independence Day” at $306.1 million, according to Box Office Mojo.com. Here are some films I have reviewed from 1996:

Other cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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