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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We're So Sorry For Your Loss...If There's Anything We Can Do..."
"In The Valley Of Elah" isn't really a movie about the Iraq War - it's about the soldiers who return home from it and the parents of those soldiers who don't return home at all.

Written and directed by Paul Haggis (who did the equally superb "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby"), the movie is far less showy than "Rendition" and less posturing than the ridiculous...
Published on 18 Dec 2008 by Mark Barry

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather Plodding Slow Military Drama
The movie centres around Jones as Hank Deerfield, a Vietnam veteran (presented at the outset as something of a patriot) who receives a message from the military that his son has gone "AWOL" on return from Iraq. Deerfield travels to the area in order to conduct his own search however, shortly after his arrival, dismembered and partly burnt human remains are found near the...
Published on 12 Feb 2008 by Northern Warrior


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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We're So Sorry For Your Loss...If There's Anything We Can Do...", 18 Dec 2008
By 
Mark Barry "Mark Barry" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In The Valley Of Elah [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
"In The Valley Of Elah" isn't really a movie about the Iraq War - it's about the soldiers who return home from it and the parents of those soldiers who don't return home at all.

Written and directed by Paul Haggis (who did the equally superb "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby"), the movie is far less showy than "Rendition" and less posturing than the ridiculous "Lions For Lambs". And while "Elah" has an unfolding power in its carefully measured pace, it's also braver in its assessment of the American military and their less-than-angelic ways...

Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon play Hank & Joan Deerfield, the parents of a young soldier Mike Deerfield, who has inexplicably gone missing since his return from a tour in Bosnia and Iraq in November 2004. Hank visits the base where his son bunked, but neither Jason Patrick as Lieutenant Kirklander, James Franco as Sgt. Carnelli nor any of his division buddies are helpful - and worse - many seem unnerved - almost as if they're hiding something very nasty. A local beleaguered Detective in the police force, single-parent Emily Sanders (played by a superb Charlize Theron) gets embroiled in what she suspects is a grieving father being shafted by the canny US military. And without giving away too much, on the story goes...

One of the movies great strengths is of course the presence and capability of real heavyweights like Jones, Sarandon and Theron. Tommy Lee in particular is sensational. Just when you thought you'd seen every stone-clad grimace he can throw at you, for "Elah" he digs down deep and finds tremulous moments that floor you with their power and humanity. His character Deerfield is "army" - old-school values and discipline - he presses his trousers over a table to get the crease right - fixes an American flag that has been hanging upside down - calls all women 'mam' and won't be seen without a clean shirt on in front of any of them. Yet Hank is not naive either - he knows that his boy's tour of Iraq wouldn't have been without sickening cruelty or even dishonour. But what gives the movie its emotional core is his skill at depicting that. You can 'feel' his barely-contained lashing-out rage bubbling underneath - or when he just quietly sits in his pick-up truck in sad-eyed despair - why are American sons left in pieces on scrubs for wild animals to feed on - did I impose my 'will' on my boy and force the army life on him - and why does civilian America not give a shit about any of it?

There's a scene where Sarandon walks away with her husband down a corridor - there's no music - just them walking away - her hand outstretched in disbelief. The camera stays stationary - watching them walk away in silence - and you know the buckle into his arms is going to come - you know it - and yet when it does - it still has the power of real hurt.

Theron is great too - one of the most intelligent actresses working in Hollywood today - she has her beauty toned down by dowdy dark hair and clunky uniforms - and it works - you concentrate on her first rate acting. There's a scene when she hugs her sleeping son at night who needs the bedroom door open because he's scared - she hugs him close - thankful that he is not another statistic of some ignored list somewhere - you 'feel' what is precious to us - and the utter devastation of having that link to our very soul taken away...

The supporting cast is also universally superb - really good actors in a quality film given quality material to work with - and they know it. Jason Patrick gets his part in years as the army spokesman trapped between the two worlds of the Army's need to cover up and the public's need for the truth; Josh Brolin plays the local Police Chief, weary of unsolved cases and ever so slightly disinterested, but a man who knows that his female detective will terrier out the ugly no matter what. Barry Corbin (of Northern exposure fame) puts in a touching old-army buddy cameo with Tommy Lee in a café, while Jake McLaughlin and Mehcad Brooks are idealistic and young as the 'just following orders' grunts. Wes Chatham in particular is chillingly fantastic as Corporal Penning - detached and jauntily psychotic as he discusses how hungry he gets after a good day's killing...

"In The Valley Of Elah" is a phrase from the Bible parable about David and Goliath - where David must beat his fear of the monster - and win. "Elah" is neither jolly nor pretty - but it has amazing truths in it. I thought it was an exceptional movie and it stayed with me long after I pressed the stop button. Much like war and its aftermath I suspect...

Put this film high on your 'must-see' list and well done to all the good people involved.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather Plodding Slow Military Drama, 12 Feb 2008
The movie centres around Jones as Hank Deerfield, a Vietnam veteran (presented at the outset as something of a patriot) who receives a message from the military that his son has gone "AWOL" on return from Iraq. Deerfield travels to the area in order to conduct his own search however, shortly after his arrival, dismembered and partly burnt human remains are found near the army base which are quickly identified as being his missing son. We also learn that Deerfield's other son joined the military but was killed in a training accident.

Most of the rest of the movie focuses on Deerfield's dogged attempts to get the death properly investigated - Susan Sarandon as his wife is pretty much relegated to an extended cameo role. The military want the affair to go away while the civil police assign Det. Sanders (Charlize Theron) who at the start of the film is evidently not taken seriously by her colleagues and gets the cases no-one else wants. Video footage taken from the son's mobile phone (secretly recovered by Deerfield from the barracks) is used to gradually fill in the back story of his tour in Iraq. Not the most effective tool and the events depicted on the phone (particularly when linked coherently towards the end of the movie) seem more concerned with denigrating the behaviour of US soldiers in Iraq than a key plot device. Indeed throughout the film, the producer seems anxious to show the Army personnel as dehumanised sub-humans inhabiting a drug fuelled shadow world of topless bars and clip joints.

The denouement when it comes is fairly low key and, particularly when we learn that Deerfield's son himself was not exactly the model soldier his father thought, is not all that satisfying. Indeed the movie just seems to come to a sudden and bleak end.

The pace is quite slow, more like a BBC drama - in fact take away the occasional profanity and some topless nudity it plays almost like a 1980's TV movie. Despite the ensemble cast, don't expect military drama on the scale of Courage Under Fire or A Few Good Men. Apart from a brief car and foot chase there's not really much action to speak of. The Blu-Ray picture and sound are adequate but this isn't really a movie to showcase your home cinema setup.

If you're in the mood for some sombre slow paced entertainment Valley of Elah might be worth a rental but I don't think it's a movie I'll be watching over again.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whodunit and whytheydunit, 18 Oct 2008
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In The Valley Of Elah [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
This is an interesting film; a good solid whodunit combined with a bit of Americans-in-combat-angst. Usually such a mixture would result in a mess, but in this case they fit together wonderfully well. There are lots of good performances linked to two main ones from the female cop (Charlize Theron) and Tommy Lee Jones as the institutionalised ex-military policeman. If the film has a theme (other than just a damned good plot) it is to do with the lack of male communication. This is admirably communicated by Jones in his at times robotic performance. Is it grief at the death of his son or is a life of polishing shoes and creasing trousers just ingrained, the story does not feel the need to tell us; which is very much part of the theme? But Jones suggests both; such that an apology or compliment from him is a high feature in the character development. The film lacks easy villains (though it tempts you to believe in them before removing the rug from beneath your feet). There are a number of times where the story looks to be over most tidily only for it to kick off again. Most films cannot manage one good ending, this one manages several.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In The Valley of Elah, Blu-Ray, 23 Feb 2009
By 
Spider Monkey (UK) - See all my reviews
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`In The Valley Elah' follows Tommy Lee Jones as he investigates the death of his son who has retuned from a tour of duty in Iraq and was murdered on a night out from base. Jones plays the roles of father perfectly and draws on his own military experience to aid Theron's character as she investigates the death further. The story is interspersed with footage the son shot in Iraq on his mobile phone, which fleshes the back story out and leads to a disquieting conclusion. Jones and Theron both acted superbly and Sarandon's role was shamefully small and with a steller supporting cast, the acting was amply taken care of. The storyline was ok, it lacked a certain tension you come to expect from these detective murder type stories, but it still managed to get you second guessing and intrigued whilst you watched. I feel Jones performance in `No Country For Old Men' to be better than this, but he certainly seems to be on a roll at the moment, picking class acting roles and performing them to perfection. For a couple of hours of solid acting and a fairly good murder thriller type story, set against the timely backdrop of the US war in Iraq, you can't do mush better than this. Worth a look.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars revealing, intelligent, often moving, but not for everyone, 6 Aug 2013
By 
Legal Vampire (Buckinghamshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In The Valley Of Elah [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
A good film, but not for everyone.

A few reviewers on Amazon slightly misunderstood what kind of film this is meant to be. The oblique title `In the Valley of Elah' (which I try to explain below) does not readily tell us what the film is about either.

This film is part detective murder mystery, but do not expect a typical `whodunit' entertainment. It is based on the true story of the Richard Davis murder case in the USA in 2003, although names and details have been changed.
As much of the impact comes from the depiction of the effect the young man's death has on his parents, this has added poignancy because this is not the latest crime thriller, but based on events that happened to real people.

A retired military policeman finds that due to inadequate official investigation, he must re-use his old police skills to find the reason for the death of his son, who had served in the American army in Iraq, and came home from that conflict apparently safely, only to die in savage circumstances soon after his unit returned to the USA.

This is not, therefore, a story that can have a truly happy ending. The father has already lost his son. All he can hope for is to know why.

By the end the case is solved, but it does not feel like the usual "detective triumphs, bad guys caught, case over, justice done" type of ending. More important is what the father, and though him, us, have finally learned about what happened to the dead son and his fellow soldiers while serving in Iraq, and to Iraqis themselves, and how even when home from the war, soldiers are not free of it.

According to the DVD extras, many veterans and families of veterans, including relatives of some who took their own lives after returning from the Iraq war, said on seeing this film that it told the truth about the war in a way that we rarely hear it.

This makes 'In the Valley of Elah' revealing and sometimes moving to watch, but not a film for everyone.

Of the three main actors, Susan Sarandon is excellent as the dead soldier's mother, although she only appears in the first half of the film. Her anguished cry to her husband "Couldn't you have left me even one of my boys?" when both her sons are killed after following their father's example and joining the army, and her simple question "Is that all that's left of him?", when she views her son's remains in the morgue, stick in the memory. Likewise, when following the morgue scene she and her husband walk in silence half the way down the corridor before simultaneously, without a word, stopping and putting their arms around each other.

Charlize Theron, playing a detective, is also, as usual, very good. As in her more famous Monster [2003] [DVD] and less well known The Burning Plain [DVD], she is not afraid to tackle sad and serious subjects and some less obviously commercial projects, in between more mainstream and commercial films.

Tommy Lee Jones, playing the father (a role originally intended for Clint Eastwood, who was unavailable), is also good, but not quite as good as the 2 actresses I have just mentioned.

Comparing him here, playing an aging ex-military man forced to question some of his long-held beliefs and confront violent criminal behaviour in peacetime, with Clint Eastwood doing the same kind of thing in Gran Torino [DVD] [2009] I have to say that Clint does it better. So indeed does Michael Caine in the British film Harry Brown [DVD].

Although most of this film takes place in the USA, the story could not have arisen without the ever controversial Iraq war and overthrow of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. The film shows the bad effects, mental and physical, the war had on human beings, American and Iraqi.

This is where the film's strange title `In the Valley of Elah' is meant to come in although it is not well explained. At one point in the film we see a little boy being told the Bible story of how the shepherd boy David killed the mighty Goliath "in the Valley of Elah". According to the 'extras', the implication is meant that American soldiers thought they would be like brave, resourceful, little David challenging big, bad, clumsy Goliath, but as they experienced the reality of patrolling in Iraq it became less clear if they were David, or Goliath.

Strictly none of this proves whether the Iraq war was on balance worth fighting or not. That depends on whether the world would have been better if the West had left Saddam Hussein's cruel and erratic dictatorship in control of Iraq indefintely. That question is beyond the scope of this film and possibly beyond anyone's ability to answer.

If that is starting to sound political, and politics is not your thing, do not let that put you off from watching this film.

Nor indeed, if you are poliitical, is it worth watching this film expecting to have your prejudices confirmed about President Bush, "wars for oil" and all that. 'In the Valley of Elah' is not a political diatribe but a revealing portrayal of the risks of putting ordinary human beings under extraordinary pressures.

It is not necessary to know too much detail about the Iraq war to understand the film. However, it may help to understand how some of the soldier characters behave if you look up the symptoms of Post Traumatic Shock Disorder, although this is also explained in passing in the quite extensive DVD extras.

If Amazon allowed, I would give this 4 and a half stars. As they do not, 5 stars is close enough.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Paced and Thought Provoking Mystery/Drama with Tommy Lee Jones on Top Form, 27 Mar 2010
This review is from: In The Valley Of Elah [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
I got this film on Blu-ray but as I don't think the disc-format is the important factor when watching this film I'm including my review for the DVD as well as I'm sure the experience would be just as good.

As it was cheap and had a good review from Mark Kermode I decided to give it a try; I was not disappointed, despite the film being written/directed by Paul Haggis who's previous effort, 'Crash', I hated !

The initial plot is quite simple: an ex-military father (Tommy Lee Jones, on top-form) is contacted by the Army infantry unit of his son, who has just returned from operational duties in Iraq, and informed that he has gone missing so is therefore AWOL. This provokes the father into travelling to the Army base, meet old acquaintances and try to find out where his son is; the film is made from his viewpoint throughout.

I am being very careful to not divulge too much information to avoid spoiling things for the first-time viewer. I have read several reviews which mention more specifics of the story as though they are immediately revealed in the film, when they aren't and are actually important plot developments; what I have stated above is as basic as it gets for starters.

As the mystery develops we soon see the father become involved in a far-reaching set of issues surrounding the initial disappearance of his son, which rapidly progresses to involve the police (mainly a detective, played magnificently by Charlize Theron - through her performances she's slowly proving that she is not just a pretty face !) and Army officialdom far more than might be expected as matters get quite sinister....

Several plot developments suggest not everything is quite as it initially seemed and a lot of assumptions made by investigators (and the father) are proved to be incorrect; the father becomes embroiled in a situation where liaisons are 'poisoned' by bad relations between the civil and Army police. Encompassing the entire film is the nagging reminder of what the son was recently involved in whilst in Iraq and many 'flashbacks' are injected courtesy of mobile phone footage taken by the son (gleaned for the father from the phone after he steals it when visiting the son's vacant accommodation).

As the story unfolds further we are presented with a host of occurrences where racism, prejudice and a general indifference to human life are rife; these incidents ultimately lead to the father discovering the shocking truth about what precisely happened to his son and, more importantly, why. Nobody is perfect in this film, including the father who we initially see as the unfortunate victim, and all those unpleasant traits are shown to be held by more people than we expect....

Once the film reaches its dramatic conclusion it is clear that the overall storyline is essentially a 'vehicle' to expose and highlight how bad things are in the environment the film depicts. As the presentation isn't overly dramatic and is almost documentary-like in style it is easy to believe everything that is seen and heard; for that reason I don't think the US Army or police would have been too happy with the way things were portrayed as the film does not show them in a good light.

It is important to realise that the details of the 'mystery' are presented to the viewer as they are revealed to the father, so we are just as clueless as he is - meaning we experience the thoughts and emotions he does at exactly the same time. Aside from the powerful and believable screenplay the most significant factor which makes this film succeed is Tommy Lee Jones; his performance is superb and he depicts those emotions and depressed confusion beautifully.

The structure of the film is excellent and the manner of the plot revelations are executed very well; this is a slow-burning, gripping and powerful mystery/drama with a cast that succeeds in making everything believable. The production-values are also very good.

If you enjoy dramatic films where good acting and a detailed, multi-layered plot are the main ingredients you really should watch 'In The Valley of Elah' as you will be in for a treat.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb performance by Tommy Lee Jones., 16 Aug 2009
By 
Amazon Customer (Bournemouth UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
In The Valley Of Elah [Blu-ray] [2007]

Tommy Lee Jones gives a great performance as humourless, stubborn and relentlessly persistent Hank Deerfield, long retired Military Policeman investigating the disappearance of his son immediately on his return from Iraq. By brilliant acting he commands attention in an extremely demanding role.

The military try to brush him aside but he obtains help from Det. Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) and they gradually develop a mutual respect in a kind of father daughter relationship in roles that are the heart of the film.

As a father finding out what happens to his son this film is brilliant, however there is supposed to be a subtext of the plight of young US soldiers returning from Iraq, and this is so sketchy that one learns very little, just a little more in the documentaries.

The title refers to the David and Goliath story, a metaphor I assume for the little man, Hank versus the giant, the US military.

Totally engrossing film with exceptional acting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slings and stones, 13 May 2008
By 
Amanda Richards "Hotpurplekoolaid" (ECD, Guyana) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In The Valley Of Elah [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):
1. War is hell
2. Coming back home can be worse

Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as Hank Deerfield, a retired sergeant in the Military Police whose son Mike has gone missing shortly after returning home from active duty in Iraq.

Refusing to believe that Mike would go AWOL, Hank gets into his truck and heads off for the Army base to find out what really happened. He runs into the brick wall of Army protocol and the stone wall of the Police when it comes to military matters, and stubbornly sticks his own craggy mug into the investigation.

His tenaciousness and crime scene experience eventually help him to win the respect of Police Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) who begins assisting him, and together they put together the pieces after some gruesome remains are discovered on Army property. Small but significant roles are played by Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, James Franco and Josh Brolin, and Frances Fisher is at her most revealing.

Much more than the story of a man searching for his son, this movie is based on actual events, and illustrates the mental trauma that affects some military personnel after their experiences in combat and conflict situations. The Valley of Elah, by the way, is the site of the biblical mismatch between David and Goliath.

A powerful movie that's well worth watching, with stellar performances from Jones and Theron.

Amanda Richards
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tense and gripping, with a real sense of doom, 8 Feb 2008
By 
Dr. George L. Sik (Epsom, Surrey) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In The Valley Of Elah [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
This is not a war film. It is a murder mystery thriller, part police procedural, part dogged individual working it out for himself. Nevertheless, events in Iraq loom darkly in the background, glimpsed on grainy, corrupted little clips on a mobile phone.

This is a towering performance by Tommy Lee Jones as a gnarled but idealistic ex-soldier, full of tiny glimpses of emotion under a surface of deternined stoicism. Susan Sarandon is equally compelling as his wife. In fact all the performances in this film are thoroughly believable, making it all the more chilling.

To give too much of the plot away would be wrong, but Jones' character gets a call to say that his son, recently returned to America after a tour of Iraq, has gone missing. Believing this to be out of character, he drives across the States to his base in order to investigate. What he finds isn't pleasant.

Gripping right up until the final pan up a flagpole (you're dying to see what's flying there...for reasons which will become clear), this is a detective story with a difference and one of the best films in recent years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuinely very moving!, 6 Mar 2011
By 
Mr. N. R. Partridge "Neil" (London) - See all my reviews
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Very moving and powerful. It had the power to bring a tear to my eyes, not much does that these days but this film did!
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In The Valley Of Elah [DVD] [2008]
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