Sunday, March 30, 2008

In the Valley of Elah: Grade A

In the Valley of Elah
Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon; Writer-Director Paul Haggis.

When you send 18 year old children into a war, you should not be surprised if they come back intellectually and morally confused. Amputees get our sympathy, but the subtle wounds to the soul are at least as tragic. It’s a tale told before, but one that bears repeating. Coming Home told the same story about a Vietnam vet, as did many others. Here it is a soldier recently back from Iraq who has gone missing and his parents (Jones and Sarandon) search for him. Jones is a retired sheriff who doggedly pursues the clues to find his son. Theron is a local detective who rebuffs his amateur help at first but eventually comes to trust him and sympathize. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the son is dead, because the core of the story is the whodunit, with good suspense maintained as the clues slowly accumulate. Acting from Sarandon, although brief, is superior. Jones plays his usual stiff-backed, taciturn but ironic self, and Theron is adequate although disappointingly restrained. She really is much better than what we see here. The music was good, from a full orchestra, but unnecessary, adding nothing. Sets and costumes are unremarkable. The movie’s virtues are that it is an engaging murder mystery, very well told, with a strong social message.

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