In the Valley of Elah (15)
Dir. Paul Haggis
Reviewed by Matt Adcock
The Valley of Elah is the middle-eastern place noted in the Bible where the young shepherd boy (and one day King) David managed to kill the Philistine giant warrior champion Goliath – with nothing more than a well-aimed slingshot. This is the epic recreation of the that famous battle, no actually this is Paul ‘Crash’ Haggis’ cutting anti-war film that rips the jugular out of any romantic notions that signing up for the armed forces is cool or praiseworthy.
Tommy Lee Jones is on top form as Hank Deerfield, a retired Sergeant whose soldier son Mike has mysteriously disappeared after coming back from his latest tour of duty in Iraq. Charlize Theron plays detective Emily Sanders who gets dragged into the investigation when it looks like there may be foul play – and a possible military cover-up due to ‘something that happened involving Mike overseas’.
Jones is awesome as the devoted father, determined to find out what happened to his son, sketchy clues to which he uncovers on media files recorded on Mike's mobile phone. Haggis who wrote as well as directs stirs up a veritable hornets nest of rage and anguish, grief and betrayal, but all of it is ratcheted up in a slow burning way. Whilst In the Valley of Elah is no action thriller, it is a gripping, smouldering fuse that leads all the while to something very nasty.
If looking for a feel good or life-affirming movie, you should move along – watching Elah is like taking a depressing punch to the frontal cortex (that part of the brain generally thought to be where higher-level thinking takes place). The plot unfurls at a walking pace but you won’t be able to help yourself thinking ahead, all the while trying to figure out ‘whodunit’ and perhaps more importantly ‘why did they do it’?
There is excellent chemistry between Jones and Theron (in a wonderfully friends trying to help each other way); plus there are moments of stunning cinematography that elevate this over and above your average ‘war screws you up’ political effort. Elah hasn’t been very well received in the States, which doesn’t surprise me as it makes for a pretty damning case against the current administration’s foreign policy on Iraq. With this and No Country for Old Men, Jones has found a superb vein of recent form and this film has brought him an Oscar nominations to boot.
NEW DARKMATTERS RATING SYSTEM FOR 2008 (all ratings out of maximum 10):
Endorphin Stimulation: öööööö (6)
- 'thinking' rather than being 'blown away with excitement'
Tasty Action: öööö (4)
- not masses but some bursts of tension
Gratuitous Babeness: öööööö (6)
- Theron is hot in an understated way here
Mind Blight / Boredom: öööö (4)
- this won't keep everyone on the edge of their seats (brain required)
Comedic Value: öööö (4)
- Not a comedy by any definition
Arbitrary final rating: ööööööö (7)
- Quality film, powerfully made and packed with decent acting but maybe not a classic
Liable to make you:
“vow not to sign up for the armed forces"
DM Poster Quote:
“if we create killing machines, can we expect them to stop?”
"so I heard you have a thing about Oscar nomated stars!?"