In the Valley of Elah

Director: Paul Haggis

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Susan Sarendon is Julie, & Tommy Lee Jones is Hank, the mom & dad of a soldier just back from duty in Iran, & who has gone missing from the base without ever phoning or checking in with his parents.

In the Valley of ElahI was almost reluctant to see In the Valley of Elah (2007) because it was one of several films in a row that seemed aimed at a critical subtext against Bush's war in Iraq. Even if I agree with the politics of such films, I just don't watch movies to be preached to. But in fact the politics aren't overweaning in this one, & it is a story of both suspense & character.

In the Valley of Elah gives Jones one of his best roles in a long line of great performances, & it's practically a one-man show. There are messages in the film but those aren't what are important. A father's love of family & of country, & how he copes internally with terrible realities, is the riveting ingredient of a well told tale.

Listed as AWOL, his dad knows his boy wouldn't do that. Having himself been an army criminal investigator in his youth, Hank sets out to do the detailed investigation the army seems disinclined to do.

An argument over civil vs military jurisdiction eventually brings in a woman cop (Charlize Theron) to help him, & together they break down the wall of lies that stand between a father & the truth of his son's fate.

It's not a pretty picture, & the less said the better about the resolution of the crimes involved, leaving each step toward the truth the more unsettling.

There's a message here, that a bad war dehumanizes everyone. The noblest, bravest, most patriotic among us just might lose our way if we can't find an authentic purpose that justifies horrors seen, & horrors conducted.

Besides a harrowing mystery there's the more important emotional savagery of the piece. The unebbing stoicism of Hank, who just needs to know the truth, reaches well beyond common heroism on his part, & seems sometimes pathological.

One expects great work from Tommy Lee Jones if he's given great material, & really the story is all about Hank. Saranden can also be great & has her moments in the tale, but the script short-changes her a lot. As the woman cop, Charlise Theron subdues her considerable beauty in order to look the role of a cop rather than a miscast Barbi.

Yet in the bigger story, the best of the script is always about Jones' character, so Charlize nor Susan are permitted to shine on their own. But as support performanes for the male lead, they assuredly assist in making him look great.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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