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  Publicity Stills of "In The Valley of Elah"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Genre: Drama
Director: Paul Haggis
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, Jonathan Tucker, James Franco, Frances Fisher, Tim McGraw, Mehcad Brooks, Wes Chatham
RunTime: 2 hrs 4 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: M18 (Nudity)

Official Website: http://www.inthevalleyofelah.com/

Opening Day: 20 December 2007


On his first weekend back after serving in Iraq, Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) goes missing and is reported AWOL. When Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones), a former military MP and his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) get the phone call with the disturbing news, Hank sets out to search for their son. Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a New Mexico police detective in the jurisdiction where Mike was last seen, reluctantly helps him in his search. As the evidence grows, her missing person's case begins to look more and more like foul play, and soon Sanders finds herself in a fight with the military brass as she and Hank struggle to keep control of the investigation. But when the truth about Mike's time in Iraq finally begins to emerge, Hank's entire world is challenged and he's forced to reevaluate long-held beliefs to solve the mystery behind his son's disappearance.

Movie Review:

Paul Haggis has carved an identity for himself with introspective films of self-examination involving subject topics that everyone knows need them, but not many hazard to do. Racism and discrimination in Crash and now political thriller in a war setting, the Valley of Elah takes you on a journey that makes you comfortable to a point where you just want to be a Haggis fan. Am I a Haggis fan? Nope, I'm not, but I don't know why and for how long, because I'm still floating in the slipstream of Haggis' artistic consciousness.

War movies are often heavy-handed and plot driven. Template A summons a heroic protagonist battle in a straight forward, linear plot with lots of flashy special effects – big explosions, gun fights and lots of guts. We see this most recently in Mark Wahlberg’s Shooter and its not hard to find lots of Rambos, commandos, special forces who headline “blockbuster action films”. Then there’s Template B, where the action is partnered with an equal dose of thrilling suspense, like Enemy of the State and The Manchurian Candidate, with conspiracies abound. In The Valley of Elah leans much closer to the latter, but somehow holds its own with calculated maturity and pacing. Its brief social commentary at a micro level stands out refreshingly.

Increasingly it is being coming easier to appreciate films for distinguished, performing lead artistes who can carry the film and tell the story single-handedly. With scripts seemingly recycled more and more in modern payola film-making, The Valley of Elah summons another cinematic behemoth in Tommy Lee-Jones. Perhaps not a behemoth, more of a tried and trusted old-school batter, but Lee Jones knew exactly what Haggis and Valley needed for the film – an appreciation emotion, nuance, thought and feel in a tired world of politics, war, power and hidden truths. Benath every one of his wrinkles seem to lie an unanswered doubt – the look of his eyes spell a man looking for truth like he knew what the end outcome would be. No gun-toting heroes and raging vigilantes – just look into my face and my eyes and you’ll see the story.

A soldier goes AWOL and the truth of his military stint is set to be uncovered – do we care what really happened? Yes we do, but Haggis successfully presents characters in a way that shows they care about it a lot more that we do. How often have we seen tenous, bad acting, veritable lack of genuine and proper, nuanced tension? A beautiful Charlize Theron plays a New Mexico detective in search of the truth and if there’s one thing to be said about Theron, she’s probably the most beautiful actress around today that can act and make you go “Hey, she’s good” without the “and she’s hot” suffix that often follows the likes of Jessica Alba and Scarlett Johansson. Theron wields such on-screen complexity that a Haggis film would seem almost pop-intellectual. : visually pleasing yet engaging in depth.

Given the fact that the main reasons to watch The Valley of Elah would be its sterling, performing cast, it is commendable that the film has a plotline that develops engagingly enough to keep the audience occupied. Though Haggis’ characterisation gets the better of him as the film tapers off towards the end, The Valley of Elah takes something that is oft-discussed and presents a version that has clear enough directorial and performer flavour - albeit slow and plodding at times. Nuanced, sensitive though often lofty, the film serves as a recommended watch for war drama thriller fans if purely for its self-engaging quality.

Movie Rating:

(The Valley of Elah had potential - but perhaps its a sign of what a breakthrough, talent director and a couple of old hands can do for an old, almost tired genre)

Review by Daniel Lim


. Letters From Iwo Jima (2007)

. Flags Of Our Fathers (2007)

. Jarhead (2006)

. Crash (2004)

. Reign Over Me DVD (2007)

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