Monday, February 22, 2010

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Director: Paul Haggis
Writers: Mark Boal, Paul Haggis
Photography: Roger Deakins
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jason Patric, Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Barry Corbin, Josh Brolin, Frances Fisher

Another sobering movie about the Iraq War, this one taking on the casual atrocities of the enterprise, the inevitability of them, the planets of psychic distance that separate the quiet homes soldiers leave for their projects of honor from the fields of battle where anything can happen, and does. Tommy Lee Jones, perfectly suited craggy face pointed forward, plays Hank Deerfield, of Monroe, Tennessee, an ex-military man in a family with a long history of military men. Deerfield intrudes himself into a police investigation of the disappearance of his son shortly after the son's return from a tour of duty in Iraq. The hook is well in by the time this story settles into the soothing rhythms of police procedural, peeling back the layers of the story as forensic and other evidence is uncovered and analyzed, all of it amid the conjectures and misgivings of characters who say most by saying little. Paul Haggis, who has previously given us a lot of flash and bombast with Crash and acres of TV work ("Walker, Texas Ranger," "L.A. Law," "thirtysomething"), has some predictable tricks up his sleeve here—notably the ubiquity of digital media—but for the most part wisely lets the cast, particularly Jones, carry the weight of the drama, which ultimately transcends Iraq and other time-bound elements and finds something to say about the larger issues of war and honor and internal peace. Jones really outdoes himself with a masterly, circumspect performance. I've never been a big fan, but he is what makes this work so well.

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