In the Valley of Elah 3.0 stars

In the Valley of Elah movie poster

A more commendable writing and directing effort from Paul Haggis (writer only on Million Dollar Baby and Flags of Our Fathers, among others) than his hokey Oscar-winner, Crash. More focussed, more concentrated, more self-contained, more consistent: an uncompromisingly mournful murder mystery, and strangled antiwar cry, about a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (remember when?) who goes missing upon his return to Fort Rudd, New Mexico, and who turns up on the outskirts of the base, stabbed, dismembered, and burned beyond recognition. Say what you will about the filmmaker's political point-making, it never clogs up the unrushed flow of the narrative; and at the same time he shows a true cinematic eye for tacky Americana, the streets, the stores, the townscapes, etc., so that whenever we go anywhere on screen -- an army barracks, a motel, a public restroom, a strip club, a coffee shop, a "drive-up" bar, a fast-food joint -- we can feel we've really been there, really seen it. (The mood lighting of nauseous green and blanched white is a case of whatever would be the opposite of gilding the lily -- wilting the weed, possibly -- and equally unnecessary.) Tommy Lee Jones, as the victim's father, a retired M. P. and current gravel hauler who presses the investigation forward when the military looks for an easy way out, has just the right amount of starch in his performance, touchingly repressed. Charlize Theron on the other hand, as the beleaguered civilian cop who eventually takes an interest, is perhaps more emotional than you want from a cop, but not more glamorous, with mannish attire, no makeup, and her hair parted in the middle and pulled back as severely as Emily Dickinson's. The rest of the cast has been carefully chosen down to the smallest role, with special mention reserved for Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, James Franco, Jake McLaughlin, Wes Chatham, Josh Brolin, Barry Corbin, and, nonchalantly topless in her mid-fifties, Frances Fisher. 2007.

Duncan Shepherd

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