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Monday
Jun272011

In the Valley of Elah

This is a drama about a quiet retired sergeant (Tommy Lee Jones) investigating the disappearance of his son, a soldier gone AWOL after returning from serving in Iraq.   Told with scraps of footage from Iraq in such a way that trying to sort out what actually happened is as confusing for the audience as it is for Jones.   He befriends Charlize Theron, a cop and single mom fighting the sexist machismo of a male-dominated field.   In a moving scene he tells Theron’s young son a bedtime story of courage and honor, the tale of David facing Goliath in the valley of Elah.   Jones learns that his own son behaved cruelly and nastily in Iraq and indulged his appetite for debauchery once back in the US.   In a way, the real mystery with which Jones must grapple is what could have happened to make a young man reared on tales of courage and honor behave this way.   Is a clue to be found in the fact that, as he later learns, his son rued running over an Iraqi boy?   As an anti-war movie, the tone of "In the Valley of Elah" is more heartbroken than angry.   Though the sergeant, like the film, is too taciturn to let fly and scream in frustration, the wounded look in Jones’ eyes speaks volumes about the disaster in Iraq.   So does the film’s final image: an upside-down American flag, the universal distress call.   This is a quietly affecting piece; its shots of the horizon, the glittering lights of the city seen from the prairie, convey a feeling of emptiness through vast, dark open space.   Written and directed by Paul Haggis, director of "Crash", writer of "Million Dollar Baby" and "Casino Royale", creator of the TV show "due South".  

Rating: ****

Key to ratings:

***** (essential viewing)
**** (excellent)
*** (worth a look)
** (forgettable)
* (rubbish!!)

 

 

- Nov 16, 2007

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