In the Valley of Elah Movie Review
By about the end of January, I always try to see all of the allegedly award-worthy films that were released over the previous year. The reason? So I can compile an accurate Top Ten list. Needless to say, I never fully obtain that goal, as I miss some movies in theaters and they aren't released on DVD until months after the Oscars come about. Such is the case with In the Valley of Elah, the Paul Haggis-directed movie about a father investigating the brutal murder of his son after he returns home from Iraq.
In the Valley of Elah may still not have made it onto my Top Ten Movies of 2007 list, but it is one of the better movies of the year. A sad, somber and intriguing drama-thriller that not only offers an entertaining story but some subtle commentary on Iraq, Elah is a well done piece of work that maintains a sense of mystery while holding true to a realistic form of investigation. The movie doesn't seem outlandish in any way, which in turn allows Haggis to connect with the audience on an emotional level. It is not an overpowering film or one that will make you cry, but you feel for the characters' anguish and sense of loss.
Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for an Oscar of his portrayal as an ex-police officer determined to learn the truth, and I can see why. While I don't know if I would have put him in the top five performances of the year - there were so many great male performances in 2007 - Jones continues to deliver excellent performances year after year. Jones chose his films wisely in 2007, having had major roles both in Elah and No Country for Old Men. Strangely enough, since 1993's The Fugitive, 14 of Jones' 19 roles have been men with authority, be it federal agents, military commanders or policemen. For a man who in some ways plays the same role over and over again, it's quite an accomplishment that he is still able to find something fresh in his characters - and get acknowledged for it.
Charlize Theron, as his co-star, also turns in a good performance, allowing me to wipe my memory of North Country and Aeon Flux.
The movie itself works on many levels. While it fades near the end, as movies like this inevitably do, In the Valley of Elah captures the attention and holds onto it from beginning to end. Great acting, quality directing and a well done screenplay create excellent synergy. Since writing Crash, Haggis has been responsible for writing several well-received movies, including Million Dollar Baby, Flags of our Fathers, Casino Royale and Letters from Iwo Jima. I don't know why we should come to expect anything less.
In the Valley of Elah is one of the better movies of 2007. It doesn't blow you out of the water, but it connects in the way Haggis intended. Highly recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.