Local, Movie Reviews

In the Valley of Elah

Posted: January 24, 2008 at 10:42 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Paul Haggis’ new film is a crime procedural with an anti-war message laced through out and while it is very effective emotionally at times there is not real mystery to the proceedings and the movie doesn’t excel above being just good.
Based on a true story, Tommy Lee Jones stars in this now Oscar nominated performance (though he is far better in No Country) as Hank Deerfield an ex-military man on the search for his son who recently went AWOL after his return from Iraq. He enlists the help of a local police detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) to help with the missing persons search and even though she shouldn’t help, as its military police’s jurisdiction, she is more than willing to get off the bottom of the barrel cases she gets because she is the only woman detective on staff.
Deerfield‘s wife Joan is played spectacularly well by Susan Sarandon and they communicate through phone over the course of Hank’s investigation and seem to be dealing with some problems of their own.
The film is a mixture of so many things going on it really doesn’t let the viewer settle on what it wants to be. There is the police investigation, there is a harassment angle with Theron at the police station, there is the military cover up, the Deerfield troubles, and then the whole what is this war doing to us angle. Though, even though it’s all over the place, all of these stories are able to co-exist and work together, it’s just hard to find a firm direction sometimes.
The movie isn’t as sneaky as it thinks it is either with things playing out about as expected as the viewer will predict, but the movie tries to act like things are a lot bigger reveal and surprise then they really are and I think if they played things a bit more straight it would have worked better.
The cast all around is very good though, with Josh Brolin doing good work again this year as the police Chief over Theron’s character. Jason Patric is also good as a military lieutenant in the film and Susan Sarandon delivers one of the toughest scenes to watch in a film this year; in a good way.
Tommy Lee Jones is also solid as always, one upping with his own investigation and really showing the cops and military up on a number of occasions.
Theron is very good as well and makes you wish she could have a great performance or role in something more mainstream and less depressing so she could be a bigger star.
Speaking of depressing, the movie is very heavy with very little humor. It would have helped the film to have a bit more lightness to the proceedings, but again the mood and message is what really hurts this film. It is trying so hard to make a statement about things and trying to be some reflection on the state of the U.S. and it just doesn’t really work. The coda at the end of the film as well as so ridiculous and over the top, it can’t be taken seriously, and really puts a damper on a fairly good film other wise.
The movie is good though, it’s engaging and really gets you to care, and if you are at all interested I recommend it; even with all my nitpicking. Take away the grim seriousness and political message of this film and it might have worked a lot better, but as it stands, it feels like a good movie that unfortunately is constrained by the intentions or mark that Haggis was trying to make with his film.