In the Valley of Elah

In the Valley of Elah

(2008)
Writer/director Paul Haggis – after a string of massive critical hits; Oscar winners 'Crash' and 'Million Dollar Baby', 'Letters From Iwo Jima', 'Casino Royale' – tackles that particularly curly topic, Iraq, in this mystery drama.

When model US soldier Mike Deerfield (Tucker) oddly goes AWOL shortly after returning home from the front lines in Iraq, his career officer father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), enlists the aid of police detective Emily Sanders (Theron) in the search for his son. His wife Joan (Sarandon) also joins them to uncover the truth of his disappearance.

Flicks Review

In the Valley of Elah sees acclaimed screenwriter Paul Haggis, the man responsible for penning Oscar winners Crash and Million Dollar Baby in consecutive years, undertake his most high profile and big budget directorial effort to date. His topic is the current conflict in the Middle East and how it has affected members of the American military who have served there, namely a father searching for his AWOL son. The film is concerned with the social issues of war that extend into the lives of those back home for whom the war is ostensibly being fought, rather than the more standard ‘war is hell’ depiction of the battle zone itself. This approach is the reason behind both the strengths and weaknesses of the film.

It is important to realise that if you are a New Zealander, this has not been made with you in mind. Few, if any, films in recent history have emerged from America so squarely aimed at its domestic audience. This is a work motivated by the desire to make Americans question the patriotic concepts that have been employed to justify their involvement in Iraq, as well as the assumption that it is a clearly delineated struggle between good and evil. The narrative structure of the film is shaped by this very impulse.

It establishes itself with the promise of elements from both the war and mystery genres, but fails to follow through and renders the already slow, methodical unravelling of the plot at times pedestrian, even boring. The more action based war elements are denied so as not to glamourize the institution it seeks to critique, which is commendable and avoids the pit falls that even the greatest anti-war movies have occasionally fallen into. As for the mystery components, this area remains unfortunately ineffective due to film being so enamoured with its own social message.

What gives the film real interest and universal appeal is the central performance of Tommy Lee Jones. Lately, he has had an incredible streak of consistent, high quality work. When the greatest actors of his generation are discussed it is the De Niros, Pacinos, Nicholsons and Hoffmans who dominate conversation. At this stage of their careers, none of these greats can compare to what Jones is currently producing. He is the best old man actor in Hollywood, bar none.

If you were American, In the Valley of Elah would contain such important social commentary and genuine emotion it would border on the must see, but I’m not sure the average New Zealander has the same empathy for the on and off screen events. Despite this, it is well worth watching for the Tommy Lee Jones master class.


The Peoples' Reviews

Average ratings from 2 ratings, 2 reviews
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Great acting and very thought provoking


a movie that has a similar spirit of a few good men and high crimes , but on a more personal level , as a father searches for answers of his missing son who had just recently returned from the war in iraq . i think haggis achieved what he was after , basically leaving viewers asking questions about how the american military operate and the last scene is very poignant. although the film was and will not be as iconic as crash , it is a very good watch for an older audience . ps thanks to flicks... More for the free tickets to this film .Hide


The Press Reviews

  • The characters in this somber film have the glum look of individuals delivering a Very Important Message to the world. And though this film in fact does have something crucial to convey, this is not the way to go about it... Full Review

  • The film, whose leisurely pace is part of its appeal, is really all about things slowly coming into view. The truth of Jones' Hank seeps around the edges of his watchful, contained and profoundly sad performance. Full Review

  • Paul Haggis has not only avoided the dreaded sophomore slump, but the director and co-writer of the Oscar-winning "Crash" has returned with another bona-fide contender. Ostensibly a murder-mystery set against the backdrop of the war in Iraq, "In the Valley of Elah" is a deeply reflective, quietly powerful work that is as timely as it is moving... Full Review

  • However you judge the movie’s politics, and whatever its flaws, there is something inarguable, something irreducibly honest and right, about Mr. Jones’s performance... Full Review

  • It is very sad and generally slow moving, especially for the first 30 minutes or so. Although the pace was a little frustrating to begin with, Jones' virtuoso performance and the expert cinematography kept me interested through to the film's conclusion - and when it came, I found it deeply moving and remarkably powerful. Full Review

  • The Iraq war has proven as nettlesome to Hollywood moviemakers as it has to Washington policymakers, and "In the Valley of Elah" continues the trend. Working overtime to be an important statement on domestic dissatisfaction with the war and the special price paid by vets and their families, Paul Haggis' follow-up to "Crash" is too self-serious to work as a straight-ahead whodunit and too lacking in imagination to realize its art-film aspirations... Full Review

  • The movie chickens out. In the Valley of Elah could have been really interesting -- and really daring -- if it had focused on Hank's realization that his own child, supposedly a good kid, had perhaps committed the kinds of atrocities that would make any decent human being recoil. The movie (which Haggis also wrote) dances around that territory, but doesn't dare to march straight into its terrifying maw... Full Review