In the Valley of Elah

  • 2008-01-16
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

SHELL SHOCK: One of many Iraq War-themed films of recent months, this one highlights the psychological fallout.

 Director: Paul Haggis

Part tearjerker, part murder mystery, and all based on a true story, "In the Valley of Elah" is a subtle anti-war film which may well end up being one of the best movies of the year.
It shows the monstrosities of the Iraq war through the post-war stress experienced by soldiers who have returned home on leave. Using flashbacks in the form of spotty video recordings which are slowly recovered in bits and pieces, the film shows how horrific war experiences transform bright-eyed young men into immoral killers.

The movie opens with protagonist Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) receiving a phone call in which he learns that his son has gone AWOL shortly after returning from Iraq. A former military police sergeant who has already lost one son to the war, Hank embarks on a quest to track down his son and discover why he went missing.
Though currently working as a truck driver, Hank has an amazing talent for detective work which he puts to good use, setting a relentless pace as he tries to uncover what happened to his son.
Upon finding out that he no longer has any contacts in the military police, Hank turns to municipal detectives for help. He soon teams up with local detective Emily Sanders, a single mom who has to constantly fight for respect from her co-workers.

Sanders becomes personally involved in the case and is eventually willing to put her job on the line to help uncover the truth. She allows Hank an amazing level of participation in the case, and follows up on each new lead that the ex-officer uncovers.
As the movie unfolds, Haggis offers truly disturbing insights into some of the atrocities that U.S. soldiers are forced to endure in war-torn Iraq 's and the heartless reprobates they turn into after returning home. Depressing and morbid from the start, the film only becomes darker as Hank increasingly suffers from the emotional tolls of his labor.

The soundtrack is outstanding, and the cinematography somehow seems to lend the movie a kernel of truth. But even more importantly, the acting is simply brilliant. Tommy Lee Jones conveys worlds of emotion with a simple facial expression or hand gesture.
A complete winner of a film, "In the Valley of Elah" will leave audiences thinking about the many complex and disturbing messages it contains long after the credits stop rolling.

Now showing in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

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