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IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH

SYNOPSIS:
Returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) goes missing from his New Mexico barracks and is reported AWOL. On hearing the news, his father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a former military MP, and his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) launch a search for their son. But when the dismembered remains of a body are found, Hank's desperate search becomes a murder investigation. With the help of New Mexico police detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), Hank gathers crucial but confusing evidence. Slowly, the truth about Mike's time in Iraq begins to emerge and Hank's traditional notions of war service are challenged.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
War f***s up young men; that's the message. The Iraq war in this case, so it's relevant and pointed. But of course, all wars f*** up our young men. Paul Haggis is a talented filmmaker and he makes the most of a superlative cast working at their peak, but the screenplay is a tad manipulative and obvious. The terrible environment of the Iraq war comes back to haunt the young US soldiers in ways nobody could have predicted. (Vietnam veterans aside, perhaps?)

The dramatic story is gripping in the hands of Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron, with minimal but important support from Susan Sarandon. The film's heavy handed message of 'look what we're doing to our boys' is couched in what seems like a police procedural at times, with a none too subtle dig at male chauvinist police stations for good measure. This is where Charlize Theron's exceptional acting abilities are called for, to pull off a clichéd situation with some style. She does it well.

But it's Tommy Lee Jones' film: he produces a stiff ex-soldier whose clipped speech and manner hide a seething mass of apprehension and guilt. His face can sometimes sink into an abyss of grief, or rise to steely anger. By film's end, his horror at his country's actions are palpable - and demonstrated in a small but symbolically powerful act. A remarkable performance that's not at all like his last two big films, No Country for Old Men and Three Burials. Worth the ticket price alone. Roger Deakins' images and Mark Isham's music are superb, too.

The film has a devastating story to tell and a massive calamity to uncover. Throughout Hank's search for answers, he stays in phone touch with his distraught wife - until the final scenes when the shocking revelations answer the questions posed by Hank's son's disappearance. We are left wondering how he conveyed all that to his wife; or how he couldn't.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (MA)
(US, 2007)

CAST: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jason Patric, Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Barry Corbin, Josh Brolin, Frances Fisher

PRODUCER: Laurence Becsey, Darlene Caamano, Paul Haggis, Steve Samuels, Patrick Wachsberger

DIRECTOR: Paul Haggis

SCRIPT: Paul Haggis

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins

EDITOR: Jo Francis

MUSIC: Mark Isham

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurence Bennett

RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 28, 2008







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