IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (WB, 2007) D: Paul Haggis, w/ Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NN
I’ve never seen a more bitter, frustrated and ultimately despairing movie. Even a classic heartbreaker like Chinatown (1974), in which the bad guy wins hands down, offers some sense of closure or tragedy, fate or at least “Thank god that’s over.”
In The Valley Of Elah screams that disaster is real, present and ongoing. At the same time, it sticks rigorously to the mystery/thriller format and never sells out its solid drama to deliver its message.
Retired military cop Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) starts investigating when his soldier son goes missing after returning from combat duty in Iraq. The army’s covering something up, and Deerfield’s only ally is a local police detective (Charlize Theron, doing good character acting) who’s scorned by her own department.
Writer-director Paul Haggis is as interested in what the investigation does to Deerfield as what it uncovers. Jones’s brilliant, detailed portrait of a man crumbling as he goes forward deserves its Oscar nomination. He earns our sympathy on his character’s merits, not his movie-star charm.
The making-of docs, which focus largely on the casting and preparation of the actors who play the missing soldier’s buddies, add considerable power to to the movie’s theme and provide interesting insight into actors’ processes.
Extras Two-part making-of doc, deleted scene. Widescreen. English, French, Spanish audio and subtitles.