2 Days in the Valley: Screenwriting that Imitates but Ultimately Succeeds

By Matthew Pizana · December 20, 2014

Sometimes funny and often sadistic, 2 Days in the Valley is a film that rode in on the wave of success created by Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction to a cult following all its own. Set in the seedy depths of “The Valley” in Los Angeles, director John Herzfeld puts the eclectic characters that make up this part of the city on full display. A couple of hitmen, an art dealer, two vice cops, and a failed Olympian all come together in this murder for hire crime caper.

Lee (James Spader) and Dosmo (Danny Aiello) are on a mission. They break into Becky (Teri Hatcher) and Roy’s (Peter Horton) house knocking Becky unconscious and kill Roy. After the mission is complete, Lee attempts to kill Dosmo in a car fire so that he can frame him for the murder, but Dosmo escapes without Lee’s knowledge. Lee flees with Helga (Charlize Theron). Dosmo stumbles into a rich art dealer’s house where he takes the art dealer and Susan, (Glenne Headly) his assistant, hostage. Becky wakes up to find her husband dead in bed beside her. She flags down two vice cops, Wes (Eric Stoltz) and Alvin (Jeff Daniels), who are driving by. Alvin wants to hand the case off to homicide but Wes wants to at least do a little police work before they do. Reluctantly, they hand the case off to homicide. Later, Lee returns to the house to collect the money he is owed for the hit. He encounters two homicide detectives at the scene so he kills them both. While Lee is still at the house trying to find the money, Wes stops by. Lee pretends to be a homicide detective in order to lure Wes away from the house eventually knocking him unconscious. Becky and Helga get into a fight at the hotel which ends with Becky shooting Helga. Helga staggers her way to find Lee at Becky’s house. She arrives in bad shape forcing Lee to decide he should kill her instead of taking her to the hospital but when he tries to shoot her, his gun jams. Helga escapes and flags down a car containing Dosmo and his band of hostages. A shootout ensues between Lee and Dosmo which ends with Teddy (Paul Mazursky) killing Lee before Lee can kill Dosmo. Thankful for his life being saved, Wes lets Dosmo take the money and run off with Susan.

2 Days in the Valley is certainly a crime thriller first, but more than that, it focuses on all the random connections a collection of strangers have as their worlds collide.  Dosmo is almost killed only to find himself falling in love with a woman he is holding hostage. Wes can’t seem to put himself in the right position to be a homicide detective until the day when Becky throws herself at his car to tell him about a murder. Most of the characters share the trait of being also-rans. Teddy is a failed screenwriter. Becky can only get to fourth place as an Olympic athlete. A vice officer who just wants to be in homicide, but he can’t seem to find his way there. 


There are abundant similarities that connect 2 Days in the Valley with Pulp Fiction. Neither of the two films are shy about the blood that accompanies violence. Both have a duo hitman team that lead the action, but there are no pithy observations about cheeseburgers or foot massages in 2 Days. These hitmen are serious, no nonsense.  Rather than a crime boss instigating the action, 2 Days in the Valley relies on a beautiful former Olympic competitor to get the ball rolling when she decides she wants her husband whacked. In the end, while Pulp Fiction ends where it began, 2 Days in Valley ties up the story with a nice bow on top. Everything is resolved, love is found and the people that need to be killed, well, get killed.

Despite the limited box office success 2 Days in the Valley encountered, the film has a cavalcade of great actors and actresses that continue to be successful in Hollywood. James Spader has made a successful career out of playing cold and ruthless characters like Lee most recently in The Blacklist. Teri Hatcher went from Becky to Paris Carver in the James Bond franchise. Charlize Theron took her first official film role as Helga and parlayed that into super stardom. She has played characters ranging from a bank robber’s girlfriend, a truck stop hooker/murder, all the way up to a super hero of sorts. All those credits and that still doesn’t include other 2 Days in the Valley cast members like Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber, Speed, Looper) Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction, The Rules of Attraction) or Danny Aiello (Do The Right Thing, Leon: The Professional, Once Upon a Time in America).     

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