I have been waiting to see "In the Valley of Elah" for over six months. When I first heard of it, I was terribly excited because it had a terrific cast (Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon) and a magnificent director (Paul Haggis, director of "Crash"). Not only that, but Paul had cast Jonathan Tucker in one of the smaller roles, an actor whose work I loved on Paul's short lived show "The Black Donnellys". Unfortunately, I never got the chance to see it when it was in theaters due to lack of time and money. This week, it finally came in at the library, and tonight I was in the mood for a drama.
Despite the fact that the mood was kind of killed by my roommate's music playing in the background (Kanye doesn't really go well with this movie), I was completely and utterly blown away. I had been worried that I had too high of expectations for "In the Valley of Elah" and would be disappointed with what I saw. This could not have been more wrong. It was a beautiful, haunting movie about what serving in Iraq is doing to the young men who join the army. There are some anti-war messages, of course, but the point of the movie isn't to make a statement for or against the army in general. Its point is to show what this specific war is doing to people. I don't really know how to describe it better without giving away the story line, but I will say that it is a beautifully crafted story that allows the viewer to see both the horrible things that our soldiers are doing as well as showing their vulnerability and humanity. Rather than painting a picture in black and white, it shows things for what they really are.
The general plot line is that Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) teams up with local detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) to investigate the disappearance of his son, Michael (Jonathan Tucker), upon the young man's return from Iraq. Although the bare bones of the story center around the crime investigation, it is the details and glimpses of humanity that make this movie the beautiful masterpiece that it is.
I apologize for this rather disjointed review. All I can say is that it is not for the faint of heart. The topics focused on in this movie are brutal and horrible, just like war really is, but there is no "good guy" or "bad guy". There are just humans. If you can stomach the content (it's not terribly visually graphic or anything, but the topics are not pleasant to think about), definitely watch this movie. It is heartbreaking and moving, and all the actors did a wonderful job. And, if you watch, make sure you watch the credits until the end of Annie Lennox's haunting song, "Lost". Not only is the song beautiful and perfect for this movie, but there is also one of the most raw, heartfelt tributes that I have ever seen included in the credits, and the movie is not complete without it, in my opinion.
Sadly, this movie was overlooked this year except for one Oscar nomination for Tommy Lee Jones (which he definitely deserved), but don't allow yourself to pass it by. It is worth the watch.
EDIT: Also, several of the actors playing soldiers were actually in the army, so the feeling in this movie...it's real. And this movie is based on a true story.