July 23, 2008

DVD Recco-In The Valley Of Elah

Our Rating: 4
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Yahoo Movies Critics: B+
Yahoo Movies Users: B-

Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron, James Franco.
Director: Paul Haggis

I recently caught this 2007 movie, In The Valley Of Elah on DVD and BOY does it rock (ok, just because I wrote digital video disk in abbreviated capitals doesn't mean that BOY stands for something as well....just thought I'd make it clear).

Directed by Academy Award (I'd produce the encircled 'R' if I could) Winner Paul Haggis (Crash), In the Valley Of Elah is an extraordinary tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Sounds confusing? Haha, read on.

Tommy Lee Jones is Hank Deerfield, a retired army military police sergeant, who learns that his son, SPC Mike Deerfielf, is absent without leave (AWOL). Hank immediately leaves for the army base in order to search for his missing son. When he arrives, he's shocked and shattered to find that his son has been murdered.

How he solves the heinous, brutal murder (Mike was chopped into lil' pieces and burnt up after that) forms the rest of the tale.

Supported ably by veteran Susan Sarandon (who plays his wife, Joann) and classy Charlize Theron (Detective Emily Sanders), Tommy Lee Jones shoulders a breathtakingly touching tale of a man who sets out to find the truth about his son.

In doing so, he unknowingly comes closer to Mike than he realizes (which is apparent through the introspective flashbacks that pepper the screenplay). However, this isn't a film about posthumous love. No, it's an out-and-out emotional thriller cum tragedy cum a tale of truth. (Frankly, whatever the specific genre, it works).

This can easily be described as one of Jones' best performances to date (I still think he was his best in Men in Black) though correct me if I'm wrong in saying that his ultimate best is yet to come.

Charlize Theron as the hassled, overworked, semi-cynical detective is simply awesome. It's a role which requires her to look menacing, calm and collected without her usual stunning looks to distract the audience. She pulls it off with elan. With considerable elan, in fact.

As Detective Sanders, Theron is convincing. The best in her comes out in that one scene where she finally puts her male, chauvinistic colleagues in their proper places. It's a treat to watch her nonchalantly whip their asses (pardon my French) into a fuzzy mess (pardon that, too). Their reactions are to die for :-D

Susan Sarandon doesn't have too much to play with, but her character helps support the story if not help progress it. She's extremely effective as the mother who's lost it all and the wife who's about to lose it all. Watch her in that scene where she curses Tommy Lee when he tells her Mike was murdered.

James Franco (Spiderman), frankly, is wasted. He's good, he's got cropped hair and he's wearing military uniform but you can't really imagine him as a senior commanding officer. The role doesn't suit him at all. Therefore, it's a blessing in disguise that his role is as minimal as it can get.

Mike Deerfield's played by some chap who doesn't really need to act since the most we see of the guy is in short video clips taken from a mobile phone. Oh yeah, just WATCH those lil' clips....they're amazing. It's just unbelievable the way they've been shot, almost as if they were taken real-time in Iraq. Without the clips, the movie would've been plain boring.

I like the supporting cast (the soldiers) but I don't know their names (in any case, there are too many of them to name). In particular, I like the Mexican runaway soldier who Tommy Lee degradingly calls "Chiko" (a degrading term used for Mexican refugees who inhabit America).

The ending. Oh man, what can I say? Haggis, sir, you're a god-damned genius, if there ever was one. In recent times, barring the Shawshank Redemption (yes, it's my favourite movie, live with it) and The Dark Knight, I haven't seen a better ending. It made me sit up and understand what you're trying to convey. It makes so much sense it's amazing no other movie with a war in its background hadn't thought of it. Simply brilliant.

Verdict? I'll go with a 4/5 for Paul Haggis' In The Valley Of Elah. It's a film you should miss at your own risk.

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