The western genre has been one of the most impactful genres in the history of cinema. In the first half of the 20th century, the genre was king in cinemas and on television. Western stories are American mythology at its most pure and basic. The tales of heroes crossing the desert in search of fortune, vengeance, or redemption are all quite compelling, and even if the genre isn’t as popular as it used to be, western films still come out consistently every year.
Alta Valley is a film written and directed by Jesse Edwards and tells the story of Lupe, a young mechanic who lives with her mother. The two of them work a lot, so they can have enough money to leave the area and start a new life somewhere else. However, when the mother falls ill and with no money to cost the treatment, Lupe embarks herself on a journey to Alta Valley. A place owned by a man from whom her mother got away a long time ago, Lupe’s father. The film stars Briza Covarrubias, Allee Sutton Hethcoat, Paula Miranda Ricardo Herranz, and Micah Fitzgerald.
The western genre has been having a resurgence as of late. Films like Sicario and TV shows like Yellowstone give us back that feeling of going to the frontier and having adventures in places where the law isn’t as prevalent as in other parts of the country. Even for the people who never got to live in those places or in the golden age of western films, watching a movie of this genre brings you a sense of longing that cannot be described. Alta Valley focuses especially on this last subject, as the main character goes on a journey that will complete her, even if she doesn’t know it.
The first thing that comes to light when watching the movie is just how pretty the film looks. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Jesse Edwards also works in this movie as a cinematographer. His work in the film is truly outstanding, creating beautiful shots that play with the dusk light and the wonderful landscape of the desert. Even when the movie moves to interiors, you can still feel that this golden aura is preserved and covers just about everything that you will see in the film.
The other great aspect is the score, composed by Ryan Taubert. It is the perfect mix between those old-school sounds we identify with the genre and a more modern and upbeat sense of rhythm and dynamics. The score really knows how to accentuate some of the most dramatic and serious scenes. The score might not have that factor that will make you listen to it by itself, but when accompanied by the movie, they both really make a perfect pair. The importance of a good score is often underestimated.
When it comes to the story, Alta Valley uses some familiar tropes from the genre. If you are a bit familiar with how things go in this type of story, then you will probably start predicting every single plot point for the rest of the movie. This doesn’t mean that the story is bad. All the opposite, it is a classic story about a character looking for the place where she belongs and how the history of her ancestors calls to her to come back. Sometimes home and family are more than just a building and blood in the veins. It goes beyond that to things that cannot be touched but felt.
The story transforms very quickly into a sort of road trip, and then reaches its destination halfway through the movie. It is interesting that for a moment the movie makes you think it will be more of a fun buddy film with the characters of Lupe and Maddy as our main protagonists, but that isn’t the case. The feeling is left behind very quickly, and from there the movie becomes a serious drama dealing with serious subjects. Corruption, exploitation, violence. The movie has a bit of everything, and the mix feels just right.
When it comes to the actors, Briza Covarrubias serves as the perfect protagonist. The role of Lupe is very complex. In the beginning, she is shown to be a very kind and gentle person, but as her journey progresses, she begins to toughen up quite a bit. Thankfully, the movie never allows the character to lose that sense of gentleness she showed at the beginning. A character can be tough and strong without having to be rude. Covarrubias manages to deal with all these aspects of her character in a way that seems effortless. It is quite easy to root for her during the entire movie.
Allee Sutton Hethcoat, who plays Maddy, our other tough lady, doesn’t bode that well. The actress is doing the best she can with the material provided, but unlike Lupe, her character never really manages to click with the rest of the story. She serves as a great juxtaposition with Lupe, especially at the beginning, but the character leaves you with a feeling of being unnecessary. This might not be Hethcoat’s fault, and it probably has more to do with the writing.
Outside of being a bit predictable and having some characters that aren’t as strong as they could be, Alta Valley is a great modern western. The movie goes by very quickly, and it is filled with entertaining scenes that escalate the stakes and the feelings of the characters at a very good pace. It might not be the most memorable of westerns, but you will not regret giving it a watch.