26 September 2023

In the Valley of Elah

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Director: Paul Haggis, Foxtel.

“Sadly enough, the most painful goodbyes are the ones that are left unsaid and never explained.”

The impact of loss is all the more searing because it was unexpected. Such was the case with Hank and Joan Deerfield whose son Mike, a soldier recently returned from Iraq, goes missing.

In the Valley of Elah tells the story of a war veteran’s search for a son, who mysteriously disappears, and the police detective who helps in the investigation.

Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, JFK, Batman Forever), a gravel trucker and retired military police sergeant living in Tennessee, drives to Mike’s base in New Mexico to look for him.

The retired military investigator works with police Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron (Monster, North Country, The Italian Job) to search for the truth after Mike’s body is found and the subsequent hunt for his son’s killers. The film explores themes including the Iraq War, abuse of prisoners and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The father’s search takes him to many places including a morgue where he’s shown something cut into pieces and burned, which he identifies as the remains of his son. Looking through his son’s effects, he surreptitiously takes his cell phone and gets a technician to salvage some video from it. It’s those images of hell, that provide valuable clues.

In the Valley of Elah is based on actual events, although the characters’ names and locations have been changed. The screenplay was inspired by journalist Mark Boal’s ‘Death and Dishonor’, an article about the murder case published in Playboy magazine in 2004.

Tommy Lee Jones gives a commanding performance in this engaging and touching fact-based drama. Theron’s acting is noteworthy as a city homicide detective.

Director/storywriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima) also draws the best out of Jason Patric as a military policeman, Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, The Client, Thelma & Louise) as Joan (Deerfield’s wife) and various other police and military officers and members of Mike’s unit in Iraq.

Iraq war veteran Specialist Gordon Bonner (Jake McLaughlin, Qantico), also gives an impressive performance as Specialist Gordon Bonner, who fought alongside Deerfield’s son in Iraq.

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