Byline: Daniel M. Kimmel
COLUMN: Movie Review
Paul Haggis has written some powerful scripts for Clint Eastwood ("Million Dollar Baby," "Letters from Iwo Jima") but when he's writing and directing himself, as he did in the Oscar-winning "Crash," he tends to wear his heart on his sleeve. With "In the Valley of Elah" he has an interesting story of a criminal investigation that gets tied up in a muddled statement against the war in Iraq.
Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is awaiting the return of his son from duty in Iraq and is informed that his son seems to have gone AWOL. Hank can't believe it. He is quickly and tragically proved correct. His son is dead. The investigation by both civilian and military authorities into what happened - along with Hank's own prying - takes up the bulk of the film.
There are many pluses, starting with Jones' performance. He evinces a quiet sorrow and anger as Hank. The character isn't given to big emotional scenes. We learn has many reasons not to just leave the matter to others, ranging from guilt over both his sons dying in uniform, to the fact that he is a veteran himself who did police work in the service. Now he's feeling helpless, and going back to work, even unofficially, gives him purpose again.
Then there's Charlize Theron as Detective Emily Sanders. This is a character part, like "Monster" and "North Country," not a glamour role. Her byplay with Jones is effective. On the one hand she's being given a tough time by both the other cops and the military, while on the other hand she realizes that Hank's "interference" is actually proving helpful.
In many ways this is reminiscent of "Missing," the 1982 film about an older man and young woman trying to solve the mystery of an American man who has "disappeared" in a South American country...