In the Valley of Elah

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In the Valley of Elah
Review (7/10)
(By Brendan Cullin)

In the Valley of Elah is director Paul Haggis' latest in which he tackles the war in Iraq and some of the effects it is having on the young men and women when they come back to American soil and also the effects on the families back home when their loved ones return from overseas. The movie stars Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric and James Franco. It focuses on a father (Jones) searching for the truth of what really happened to his son when he returned to his American military base. Following his son's mysterious disappearance, Hank Deerfield travels to New Mexico and enlists the help of a local police officer (Theron) after the military police are less than helpful in determining why his son has gone AWOL. You figure they would be a little more helpful with soldiers and families dealing with issues on their return from the war, would you not? But Hank is a lifetime military man. He's been to Vietnam. Both his sons were in the military. He knows how to talk to these boys, he knows what they have gone through and what they will go through. And because of this, he will find out what happened to his son, Mike.

In the Valley of Elah is one of those movies that is trying to say a lot about war (and in particular the Iraq war) without coming right out and actually saying it. It's got a message, and it's not a pleasant one, but that's to be expected when it comes to war. Unfortunately, what Haggis wanted to say, it just seemed to take him too long for him to get the message across. The movie played out in parts like a big-screen episode of CSI and we were just kept guessing and waiting. I think when the message was finally delivered, it was in some ways diluted by the path that it took to get there.

I have to say, I did mildly enjoy In the Valley of Elah. Tommy Lee Jones was fantastic and this movie certainly rides on his aging shoulders and his pained and serious face. But the movie didn't rub off on me, at least emotionally, as I would have expected such a movie to do. It was just too bland too often and I found the big payoff at the end to be a bit anti-climatic. It took too long to get the message across and the investigation was more frustrating and disappointing than anything. I'm probably guilty of expecting too much from Elah, perhaps a bit more of an emotional attachment. That didn't happen. In the Valley of Elah was an okay movie and when you're dealing with a movie from the guy who broguht us Crash and a movie dealing with an intense topic like the Iraq war, I just was hoping for more. It didn't happen for me on a consistent basis with this movie.

For those who feel In the Valley of Elah is an anti-war movie, I really don't even think it's that. Hank Deerfield is a military man. Like I said, he went to war and he wanted his sons to be in the military too. The motives for the Iraq war are never questioned. If anything, this movie shows something we all know - war is a horrible reality and what has to be done is we have to take care of our men and women when they return home. It just isn't fair to leave them to hang out and dry once their tour of duty is over.

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