In The Valley Of Elah


“Humanity is the casualty of war,” says one of the real-life US army veterans bit-parting in Paul Haggis’ worthy war drama, on one of two endearingly unpolished featurettes. It’s true enough, but In The Valley Of Elah appears to exist only to under-score (or over-score, in the power ballad-drenched conclusion) this less-than-blinding revelation. It could be part three in a Trilogy Of The Bleedin’ Obvious, the message – WAR IS BAD – following Crash’s RACISM IS RATHER DREADFUL and Million Dollar Baby’s much-needed PARAPLEGIA ISN’T TWO TONNES OF FUN…

Elah is a subtler, more mature movie than Crash – which lost a lot of energy and power on repeat viewing, once you knew the pieces of the moral jigsaw puzzle – but the writer/director is still more interested in theme than story. On this disc’s interview he readily admits he didn’t much care about the thriller elements, instead using Tommy Lee Jones’ investigation into the murder of his son, an Iraq War veteran, as a hook for musing on the trauma of a nation in conflict… Well, it shows – there’s a plot hole in Elah you could drive a humvee through.

That the film retains a gravity and emotion – and definitely deserves viewing – is down to Roger Deakins’ expert photography of Jones’ monumental performance. Not since John Wayne in The Searchers has a face been used so well as a physical, moral and emotional landscape (to be fair to Haggis, he admits Ford’s masterpiece was his touchstone). His haggard features steeped in grief, Jones is devastating – a master of conveying much with very little. Which, in the circumstances, is just as well.


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