IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH: HEARTWRENCHING LOOK AT THE CASUALTIES OF WAR
Towards the end of In the Valley of Elah, Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) looks at Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) and tells her thank you. That one look shows anguish, hopelessness, and an emptiness felt by a parent after losing a child. Director Paul Haggis (Crash) doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics and In the Valley of Elah deals with the emotional distress that soldiers deal with when they come home from war. It is sad and doesn’t showcase the military in a positive light.
Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) has been informed that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker) has gone AWOL. Hank wasn’t aware that Mike had returned from Iraq. When Mike doesn’t return his phone calls, Hank decides to drive to the base in Fort Rudd, New Mexico and do some investigating. When the military is of no help, Hank goes to the local police department and enlists the help of Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). Sanders is isolated from the other detectives as she used to be friendly with the Chief (Josh Brolin). At first she refers him to the military police. But when Mike’s body turns up burnt and dismembered, she and Hank start to realize that the military maybe covering up a murder.
Adapted for the screen by Paul Haggis, the movie is based on true events. It is one of many stories about the Iraq war that has come to the screen of late. It distinguishes itself by focusing on how these men come back from war but are still in a battle mindset. They hate being in Iraq but when they return home they just want to go back. They act on instinct rather than thinking something through. This sometimes leads to disaster. The story doesn’t show these men as evil but just the drastic effect it has on them mentally. The acting is superb which is not surprising. With two Oscar winners (Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron), you look at a dad trying to find out who killed his son with a detective who has a young son herself. Tommy Lee Jones shows all of his pain in his face. He seems to age with every bit of information that is handed over to him regarding his son. Charlize Theron dyed her signature blond hair to be taken seriously for this role and it is money well spent. She is just a tired and weary mom who is trying to earn the respect of her fellow detectives while doing her job. And Hank lights a fire under her to actually assert herself. The film was mostly shot in New Mexico with the war scenes in Morocco. Both are filled with flat lands and the effects of battle, old and new. The raising of the flag at the beginning and end of the movie will have a lasting impression and the message that it is trying to bring.
Without it’s A list stars the film could just has easily been a made for television movie. It was an above average story that did have some predictable moments.
In the Valley of Elah is not a pro war film. Soldiers are coming back from Iraq broken men not just physically but also mentally. Even if you don’t know somebody in the war, you will feel for these soldiers and what they go through.