In the Valley of Elah

Plot: A veteran (Tommy Lee Jones) searches for his son who mysteriously disappeared, going AWOL after returning from Iraq. A police detective (Charlize Theron) reluctantly helps the veteran search, and they continue to run into road blocks from the military.

Who’s it for: This film doesn’t talk politics; it talks about our soldiers. Everybody seems to agree that whatever our feelings on the war, we need compassion for the men and women serving.

Expectations: It’s an amazing cast, with Jason Patric, Josh Brolin and James Franco even getting smaller roles. Plus, Paul Haggis is still considered gold with directing “Crash,” and writing “Million Dollar Baby” and “Flags of Our Fathers.”

SCORECARD

Actors:

Tommy Lee Jones as Hank Deerfield: It’s always a great performance when you can’t imagine anyone else playing the role. Jones does a fantastic job with his quiet investigation as a loving father. Plus, when you are head and shoulders smarter than all the other detectives, it’s always fun to watch.
Grade: 8

Charlize Theron as Det. Emily Sanders: Theron continues to take roles that don’t include heavy make-up and high heels. And the result is that she proves she can act. Theron has the ability to make us feel sorry for the abuse that Emily receives at work. But her ability to remain stoic underscores that she’s not just begging for our attention.
Grade: 7

Susan Sarandon as Joan Deerfield: Sarandon only gets one scene beyond her phone conversations. At first I thought it was a shame, but then I realized we’re lucky such a quality actress played such a small role. Plus it’s always amazing to see the age range that Sarandon can play.
Grade: 6

Talking: I wish there would have been more moments with the soldiers. Movies are the closest I’m getting to war, and the conversations between the soldiers, especially the climax, should have filled the film.
Grade: 6

Sights and sounds: I never want to get stuck watching fuzzy video in a film, but “Elah” makes it work. And the entire movie has an overcast, purposeful gloom that sets a necessary tone.
Grade: 7

OVERALL

I feel like I’ve been tricked. I thought I was sitting down to watch the first film that tackles post-traumatic stress in our soldiers from Iraq. “In the Valley of Elah” is actually a good, dramatic thriller that follows an old curmudgeon played perfectly by Tommy Lee Jones, who’s out to solve a crime. It’s a quiet investigation by a good detective. It’s a quality film with fantastic performances across the board, but all the truly emotional moments come from watching and listening to the soldiers, which doesn’t really happen until the very end.

Overall Grade: 7

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