In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Director:  Paul Haggis
Cast:  Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jason Patric, Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Josh Brolin
Plot:  A career officer and his wife work with a police detective to uncover the truth behind their son's disappearance following his return from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Genre:  Drama / Mystery
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Leading Actor.  Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice).
Runtime:  124min
Rating:  M18 for violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality/nudity.

Paul Haggis may just have been a one-off wonder, a temporary hit with no clear sign of sustainable filmmaking talent.  After the surprised success of Crash (2005), which undeservedly won the Oscar for Best Picture two years ago (it should have been given to Lee Ang's groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain or Steven Spielberg’s Black September drama - Munich), Haggis decides cleverly to capitalize on his sudden fame by quickly getting his next project on the move.

In the Valley of Elah sounds more exciting that the film promises; but it is really another in a long chain of films this year (Rendition, Sicko, Lions for Lambs) with the intent of doing damage to the US government: for their mistakes in Iraq, as well as the mysterious ways they take to preserve their ‘glorious’ human rights record.

Haggis may have some filmmaking pedigree, but he’s yet to establish his style and consistency at such an infant stage of his feature-film career.  While Crash was an engaging ensemble drama on racism, In the Valley of Elah is a dull account of one man’s mission to find the real truth of his soldier son’s death.

That man is played by Tommy Lee Jones, a casting job that is spot-on.  His impressive performance as an aged, crease-faced father, who spends most of his screen time looking dejected, is surprisingly upstaged by Charlize Theron, playing a female cop who will stop at nothing to expose the truth.

In the Valley of Elah moves at a glacier pace, without any injection of adrenaline till the last fifteen minutes of the film.  It’s sometimes compelling drama, unfortunately it often feels lethargic on most occasions, except when Theron is on screen.  

Haggis’ screenplay is a tad too predictable; there’s one particular invigorating moment though, occurring in the later stages of the film that bucks the trend – from a repeatedly-shown photo of a blue, decapitated van, and what seems like a dead body lying in the middle of a road, plus a group of kids running toward it, Jones pieces in his mind in a flashback of what made his son such a wrecked soul during a course of duty in Iraq.

Good stuff, but it only happens sporadically.  In the Valley of Elah is an average motion picture that will probably lose out in the Oscar stakes.  And I have never heard the story of David versus Goliath told that appallingly. 


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