In the Valley of Elah
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Paul Haggis
with Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, James Franco, Wes Chatham, Jake McLaughlin, Victor Wolf, Mehcad Brooks, Josh Brolin, Barry Corbin, Frances Fisher
release US 14.Sep.07,
UK 25.Jan.08
07/US Warner 2h01
In the Valley of Elah
Coffee talk: Theron and Jones

sarandon patric franco


In the Valley of Elah Using the Iraq conflict as a premise and a procedural investigation for structure, Haggis draws sensitive performances from his cast while asking provocative, important questions.

Hank (Jones) is a Vietnam veteran with a military police background, living in Tennessee with his wife (Sarandon) when he hears that their son has gone AWOL shortly after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Unable to just wait for news, Hank heads off to join the search, meeting the officers in charge (Patric and Franco) and the local Detective Sanders (Theron). When the body is found, it becomes a murder investigation, and the military seems happy to keep everything quiet and extremely simple. But Hank and Sanders uncover some ugly truth.

The central themes here are the US flag upside-down (a signal for distress) and the David and Goliath story (which took place in Elah). This might not be terribly subtle, but Haggis addresses it with honesty. He asks hard questions to examine how war strips young people of their humanity, inviting them to commit the most unthinkable atrocities and then expecting them to slide effortlessly back into an ordered society. As with Crash, Haggis isn't offering simple answers; the key point is that he's getting to the root of the issue, raising questions most people don't even acknowledge.

Putting this into the context of a murder mystery plotline is extremely clever, especially with such riveting actors on the screen. Jones gives one of his most subtly detailed performances ever, telling us everything we need to know in the tiniest flicker of his eyes. And Theron builds her steely character with unstoppable resolve softened by brittle emotion. Their banter is sharp and thoroughly engaging. In smaller scenes, Sarandon has some terrific moments, as do the actors playing the army meatheads.

As the plot circles towards its conclusion, the sense of abject moral failure is almost overpowering. These young men are plunged into a world of everyday brutality where they're told they have free reign and no responsibility for their actions. The results are hardly surprising. And it's perhaps to Haggis' credit that he keeps the film so subdued and muted, because what he's saying here is extremely potent.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 12.Oct.07

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... In the Valley of Elah Brian Keane, London: 5/5 "Tommy Lee Jones is great in No Country For Old Men but in Valley Of Ellah: an acting tour de force. The storyline is spot-on and every scene is rich in understated detail and all the more powerful for that. Jones' Vietnam vet MP character still 'bulls' his shoes and knife-edge creases his trousers even while overnighting in motels and dons his shirt before answering the door lest he be letting his standards slip. His personal tragedy finally brings home not only just how far out of touch he was with his son but also with what the America he loves and fought for has become. The inverted flag becomes a symbol of a nation and a society in distress made more poignant by his first attempt to literally put it up right. It's much than just an antiwar movie; it says a lot more about a whole lot more. Charlize Theron, excellent, and Haggis' direction has drawn great performances from all his cast, I can't remember one poorly acted phrase, glance or move. One reviewer described it as dull. I guess there's a village somewhere missing its idiot." (14.Mar.08)
2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall