Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In the Valley of Elah. B+

This is a movie where my gullibility overpowered my common sense that told me that this isn't a good movie. True, maybe it's not a good film in the eyes of some, but to me, it's terrific. My reasons are mostly arbitrary, but to tell the truth there is actually some really good stuff here. Tommy Lee Jones, as in 'No Country For Old Men,' plays an uncertain man seeking the truth. His name is Hank, and his life turns to turmoil when his son Mike, recently back from Iraq, goes missing. Hank immediately begins an investigation and is aided by police detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). I won't reveal anything else. There's a surprising, brutal turn in the plot early on, but I don't see what good it would do to tell it here. Jones gives a great performance, one where his facial expressions are more powerful and telling than his words. That's why Jones is such a great actor. The underlying message in the film is obvious and surprisingly shallow compared to what we get in director Paul Haggis' previous works. But the reason the movie works is because it has such a solid script from Haggis, who also wrote 'Million Dollar Baby.' There are small scenes that worked really well and that were emotionally gripping. Two that especially stood out are when Hank shares a drink with Mike's fellow soldiers. They seemed to be the most honest segments of the movie. There are plenty of long brooding shots of Hank sitting alone reflecting on the situation. Yet his character isn't quite as tragic as Tom Bell in the aforementioned 'No Country.' He also wasn't as compulsive as Bell's was because the latter was seeking something that he fails to get. Hank on the other hand obviously is troubled by something, but we're never quite sure what it is. Another problem I had was that Mike wasn't a very likable person, which takes away some of our sympathies. The final shot of 'In the Valley of Elah' is cheesy in its own brilliant way and I sort of bought it all the way, as I did the rest of the picture as well. One of these days I'm going to unleash an article about the brilliance of cinema in 2007. I'll probably mention this one in it somehow.

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