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In the Valley of Elah
4 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Paul Haggis

Written By:
Paul Haggis, Mark Boal

Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Brent Briscoe, Josh Brolin, Mehcad Brooks, Chris Browning, Barry Corbin, Wayne Duvall, Frances Fisher, James Franco, Rick Gonzalez, Loren Haynes, David House, Sean Huze, Zoe Kazan, Kathy Lamkin, Judy Marte, Jason Patric, Susan Sarandon, Arron Shiver, Glenn Taranto, Jonathan Tucker, Z. Ray Wakeman, Wendy Worthington, Paul McGowen, Josh Meyer, Dan Strakal, Karen M. Hudson, Laurie Johnson, Jennifer Siebel, Victor Wolf, Wes Chatham, Devin Brochu, Pab Schwendimann, Babak Tafti, Joseph Bertot, Jake McLaughlin, Jack Merrill, Jeff Mocho, Brandon Weaver

In the Valley of Elah (2007)
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Movie Review by Matthew
September 21st, 2007

Paul Haggis' newest film "In the Valley of Elah" is sure to be an Oscar contender.
With three great leading performances, great writing and great direction, it must be recognized by the Academy. But will it suffer a backlash from "Crash", Haggis' last film as a writer director?

I don't understand it, but there are people who cringe at the very mention of the film "Crash". I was riveted for every minute of the running time and was glad the film was awarded Best Picture status. After "Crash", Haggis went on to write, or rewrite, a number of high profile films, making them better in the process. "Million Dollar Baby", "Sands of Iwo Jima", "Flags of our Fathers", "Casino Royale" and others all passed through Haggis' computer and were given the experience of the writer's skill. Now, he returns with his newest effort and it proves he is deserving of all of the accolades he receives.

Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a retired Sergeant with the Military Police, now spends his days hauling gravel and sharing a quiet life with his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon). One day, he receives a call informing him that his youngest son, Michael has gone AWOL. But his son is in Iraq. No, he returned stateside four days ago with his platoon. Hank calls his son's cell phone and gets voice mail. He checks his e-mail, nothing. He makes a few calls. Nothing. Something isn't right. His son would call him, let him know if something was wrong. He drives to Fort Rudd and begins to make inquiries. He meets some of Michael's buddies, including Bonner, Leo and their Sergeant (James Franco). He also spots Michael's cell phone among his son's belongings and surreptitiously grabs it. Hank can't make anything of it, so he contacts a local telephone guy who offers to try to retrieve some of the video on it. It will take a while, but he can e-mail the files as they are reconstructed. With each inquiry, Hank comes to a dead end so he decides to ask for the help of the local police and meets Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). A recent promotion to the Detective squad has earned her nothing but the scorn of her fellow detectives, but she tries to do a good job, tries to help the public. Hank and Emily meet with Head MP, Lt. Kirklander (Jason Patric) and everyone is very sympathetic, but no one can help. Then a body is found, dismembered and burned beyond recognition. It is Michael and Hank has to call his wife and tell her the news. Hank tries to find out what happened, but continues to meet a number of hurdles. Frustrated with her job, Emily realizes she might be able to help Hank, so she starts to look into things. Hank is persistent and uncovers things no one wants to hear, including himself.

Haggis has proven time and time again he is a very good writer. Before he made a name for himself in film, he worked in television and created a short-lived, but extremely dynamic television series called "EZ Streets". The show explored the lives of a group of cops (led by Ken Olin) and a group of crooks (led by Joe Pantoliano and Jason Gedrick). The story line was outstanding, really delving into these characters lives. But it was too bleak and the gorgeous cinematography, which seemed to get more monochromatic and gray, probably didn't help. It didn't last long.

One of the key things that makes "Crash" such a great film are the various observances he makes about each of the characters. They don't necessarily have a lot to do with the story, but they make the characters more real. If anything, "Crash" suffers from too many faces, making each of them nothing more than a supporting performance. The film lacks a strong central character, to shepherd the film, and to bring us into the story. But this is also another thing that makes "Crash" stand out. Because there are so many faces, so many points of view, we see so many different aspects of life in the community depicted.

In "Elah", Haggis focuses on three characters, giving the film a strong, singular point of view. As we watch Hank and his wife interact, we see the deep and abiding love they have for one another, but they have been married a long time. During this time, they have fought, had disagreements, said the wrong things, but have also made up. They no longer have to say, "I love you" or kiss each other constantly to show their affection and love. They are life partners and know what each other is thinking, what each other needs. She barely objects when Hank announces he is going to drive to Fort Rudd and look for Michael. She knows he would do nothing else. When he calls her, to tell her they have found Michael's body, Haggis shows us Sarandon's character from behind. She is crying, as we would expect and she fights with Hank. The camera slowly pulls back to show her sitting on the floor, a green carpet underneath, the telephone stand on it's side, a casualty of her grief.

It won't fit. Please read the full review at thornhillatthemovies.com

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