"In the Valley of Elah"
Directed by Paul Haggis.
Written by Paul Haggis.
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jason Patric and Susan
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.
"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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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