In The Valley Of Elah (2007)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
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Overall Rating 72%
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Ranked #1,655
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In Monroe, Tennessee, Hank Deerfield, an aging warrior, gets a call that his son, just back from 18 months' fighting in Iraq, is missing from his base. Hank drives to Fort Rudd, New Mexico, to search. Within a day, the charred and dismembered body of his son is found on the outskirts of town. Deerfield pushes himself into the investigation, marked by jurisdictional antagonism between the Army and local police. Working mostly with a new detective, Emily Sanders, Hank seems to close in on what happened. Major smuggling? A drug deal gone awry? Credit card slips, some photographs, and video clips from Iraq may hold the key. If Hank gets to the truth, what will it tell him? --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 24, 2007
Welcome to the world of directing, Paul Haggis. You know the name. You should. He was nominated for an Oscar in 2005 for "Million Dollar Baby", won an Oscar in 2006 for "Crash" and was nominated against in 2007 for "Letters From Iwo Jima", all as writer. He has also written such screenplays as "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Casino Royale". This film marks his second outingt as a director, along with "Crash", and after finding Oscar nominations in three consecutive years, I am sure he didn't have very much difficulty getting whatever film he wanted produced. "In the Valley of Elah" is that film, and it shows that Haggis has just as much skill behind the camera as he does behind the typewriter. He has crafted an emotionally complex and heartbreaking story that finds itself leaning towards the left of the political spectrum in more ways than one. "In the Valley of Elah" wears its politics proudly on its sleeve and doesn't make excuses or sacrifices. As he continues to progress as an artist, it is going to be interesting to see how Paul Haggis' legacy continues to grow. With films like "In the Valley of Elah", he might become one of the hottest tickets in town.

The film stars Tommy Lee Jones as Sergeant Hank Deerfield, a former military policeman who now lives in a rural Tennessee and hauls gravel. As the film begins, he learns that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker) has just returned from Iraq and has gone AWOL. No one seems to know where Mike could be, so Hank sets out to the military town where his son was last seen to help solve the mystery. Susan Sarandon stars as Joan, Hank's wife. When Hank arrives, he immediately starts sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong, which doesn't sit well with Lieutenant Kirklander (Jason Patric). Charlize Theron co-stars as Detective Emily Sanders, who helps Hank with his search. Eventually, Mike's body is discovered, severely burned and dismembered in an open field, and the missing persons case becomes a homicide case, prompting Hank to become even more passionate about finding his son's killer. The film is, basically, about Hank coming to terms with the loss of his son and how he might have been partially responsible. We see how the old rules of the military aren't exactly the same as they are today, and they are numerous references to the dangers and horrors of war that should be avoided at all costs. "In the Valley of Elah" is a challenging film that doesn't take the easy road on any of the issues it courts.

What propels this film along is a very engaging and original story line. Some might say the film moves along slowly, but I was always entertained. I got wrapped up in this mystery and really was on pins and needles to find out how it would be resolved. The relationship between Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron was also very intriguing, with Theron wanting to help him because she can't imagine what it would be like to lose her son. Most of the people in this film help Jones' character because of that same reason, which is very interesting. The film is obviously anti-war, but I don't think it is in a broad sense. I don't think the film is saying the Iraq War is bad, singularly, but I think it is saying that all war is bad. It also goes to great lengths to show us that the soldiers of yesterday are not the soldiers of today. The film ends with a very moving and very powerful symbol that some are going to love and others are going to hate. Considering what I just watched happen in the film, I found it wholly appropriate for the character to do what he does. Another very interesting relationship is between Jones and Sarandon. Sarandon plays a woman who loves her husband, but blames him for the loss of both of their sons. There are just so many complex and memorable characters in this film, including a non-brooding James Franco, for a change.

The performances are nothing short of Oscar worthy. Tommy Lee Jones continues to show us why he is one of the best, most underrated actors working today. He takes this character really makes us care about him. He conveys his emotions on such a minimal scale, we can barely tell what he is thinking, but we know exactly how he feels. Jones has some standout scenes in this film - just watch the look on his face when he is told that his son's body has been found. Charlize Theron is equally memorable as the detective helping Jones with the mystery. She is an actress who is so unafraid to 'ugly' herself up for a role. She is not unattractive here, but she is not the extreme vision of beauty we're used to seeing. Susan Sarandon, in such a small role, is fantastic and shows what a great actress can do with so little screen time. She breaks your heart. Also strong in supporting roles are Jason Patric, Josh Brolin and the always great Barry Corbin.

After being so disappointed with "Eastern Promises", it was nice to see a film that met and then exceeded all of my expectations. "In the Valley of Elah" is one of the best films of 2007, and I will be shocked if it doesn't find success come awards season. My recommendations are Tommy Lee Jones for Best Actor, Susan Sarandon for Best Supporting Actress, Paul Haggis for Best Original Screenplay and maybe Best Picture, depending on how the rest of the year shapes out. "In the Valley of Elah" is a difficult film that tackles painful subject matter in a real and seriously blunt way. The ending is a testament to the state of the United States and I think it goes right along with what this film is trying to convey. "In the Valley of Elah" will be expanding even wider over the next couple of weeks, so be sure to check it out when you get a chance.

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