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"In the Valley of Elah"

Directed by Paul Haggis.
Written by Paul Haggis.
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jason Patric and Susan Sarandon.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  10/2/07


When a guy's hot, you have to ride the hot hand...and, with Paul Haggis, believe you me: he's got the hot hand.  After writing "Million Dollar Baby", "Casino Royale", "Flags of our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima", and writing & directing "Crash" (Best Picture from two years ago), Haggis comes back with "In the Valley of Elah", a solid drama from the start thanks to great performances but also to timely subject matter.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Hank, the former Army man whose son has gone off to Iraq and has just returned from a tour of duty.  The problem is that a few days after getting home, the son has gone missing and no one seems to know why he hasn't checked in with his parents.  So, Hank goes to the base where his son was stationed...and, a couple of days after he starts snooping around for his boy's whereabouts, he learns that the son has been stabbed to death, sliced into pieces, burned and scattered in a field near the base.


So, with the help of a local police investigator (Charlize Theron), Hank tries to learn the truth behind who killed his son and why.  Standing in their way at nearly every turn is the military police, led by Lt. Kirklander (Jason Patric), who seem to be more concerned with keeping the crime in-house than out in the public view.

The murder mystery itself really never turned me on during "In the Valley of Elah", although it does take an interesting turn by the time the film is wrapping up.  What got me was how calmly (but, in a realistic way) Hank goes about trying to learn the truth about his boy.  Paired with Susan Sarandon as Hank's wife, Jones does great work in this film thanks mainly to the severely understated approach he takes to the character.  No wild shouting matches with the authorities as he tries to learn what happened, and when he has to tell his wife that their son--the second to die in military action--has been murdered, the way the scene plays out is just fantastic and powerful and muted all at once...very strong stuff.  Thanks to actors like James Franco and Josh Brolin and others in small-bit, throwaway roles, the production has a professional-grade quality from end to end.  Theron is once again great and even Patric has a bit more edge/emotion than normal, especially for a guy that normally comes across so freakin' vanilla.

Although I can't really place any negative qualities on the film, I never felt like "In the Valley of Elah" was something truly special, or even top-of-the-line for the genre.  It's a great all-around performer but it never got to that next level for me, and even now I can't figure out why it didn't.  But, it is very strong entertainment that I could see garnering real Oscar backing when the time comes early next year.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09