A soldier who has just returned from Iraq goes AWOL without contacting his parents. The army tells the father Hank Deerfield, played by Tommy Lee Jones, that they are unaware of the son’s whereabouts. Deerfield, who is an ex-army detective, drives down to the army base to look for his son and investigate his disappearance.
Things take a tragic turn when the local police finds the remains of a charred body. Since the body is found on army property, the army takes over the case. One of the investigators, played by Charlize Theron, is moved by Tommy Lee’s plight and agrees to help him. They slowly uncover the case behind the disappearance against the murky backdrop of the war.
Directed by Paul Haggis, of Crash fame, In the valley of Elah is a moving film that is essentially a look at the psychological problems faced by soldiers fighting in the Iraq war. It is not preachy or aiming to deliver a message which I think is always a good thing. There are a couple of scenes in the movie that are chilling, especially when you get the sub-text. The script is steady and the suspense and drama keeps you hooked throughout the movie. The script “shows” you the story and lets you figure out what the movie’s about.
Tommy Lee Jones as the stern, yet grieving father and ex-army man is superb. Susan Sarandon doesn’t have a lot of screen time but yet she manages to make you empathize the pain of her character, the mother. Charlize Theron is terrific as the detective who has to face jibes and constant harrassment from her colleagues.
In the valley is not the regular anti-war movie on the face of it, but when you think about the movie later, you realize that it is. The pictures you see are not brutal, for the most part, but the movie affects you at a psychological level.
Definitely a movie worth watching.