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Monday, 10 March 2008

In the Valley of Elah

When Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) goes AWOL on his first weekend back from a tour of duty in Iraq, his father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones) doesn’t hesitate to join in the search. A former military policeman who served in Vietnam, Hank knows the kind of trouble a soldier can get in fresh back from a war. But as he investigates the disappearance alongside local detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), he soon realises that his son and the soldiers he was with are in more trouble than just another drunken weekend.

This might present itself as a searing indictment of how America throws away its fighting men, but only because writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash) does a solid job of hiding this film’s many cliches under a thick layer of topicality. The performances are strong, the characters are skillfully-written, the mystery ticks along nicely and the film’s atmosphere is suitably bleak. Basically, it’s a well-made crime film. But despite all of Haggis’ shrill and painfully obvious moralising, this is still little more than another clue-laden mystery being solved by a grizzled veteran and a sexy newcomer to the force.

Anthony Morris
(This review first appeared in The Big Issue, #298)

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