In Monroe, Tennessee, Hank Deerfield, an aging warrior, gets a call that his son, just back from 18 months' fighting in Iraq, is missing from his base. Hank drives to Fort Rudd, New Mexico, to search. Within a day, the charred and dismembered body of his son is found on the outskirts of town. Deerfield pushes himself into the investigation, marked by jurisdictional antagonism between the Army and local police. Working mostly with a new detective, Emily Sanders, Hank seems to close in on what happened. Major smuggling? A drug deal gone awry? Credit card slips, some photographs, and video clips from Iraq may hold the key. If Hank gets to the truth, what will it tell him? Written by
A gung-ho ex military man gets word that his son, a soldier in Iraq, has gone AWOL. The film's plot follows the father, played by Tommy Lee Jones, as he sets about trying to find out what happened. Most of the characters here are either military people or local cops.
The story is heavy on mystery and investigation. The father's research skills are more potent than those of some local cops. Subtle plot twists and red herrings throughout keep the story's outcome uncertain until the end.
Based very loosely on a real-life event in 2003, the film's back-story pertains to the war in Iraq. Because of the controversial nature of this war, some viewers will read into the film a nefarious political agenda, dismissing it as propaganda. In point of fact, the motivation that led to the real-life event is, to this day, still shrouded in mystery.
Production values are generally high. The film has terrific, detailed production design. Sound quality is near perfect, which, when combined with the absence of background music in some scenes, enhances a sense of realism. Film editing is reasonably good, though a number of scenes could have been edited out, as they are either unnecessary or a tad confusing. If one is not privy to the film's point of view, the ending is slightly ambiguous, especially with regard to motivations of certain characters. An added line or two of dialogue could have added clarification.
Acting is wonderful. Tommy Lee Jones, with his weather-beaten face, is convincing as a tough, patriotic American military dad. Charlize Theron is satisfying as a frustrated local cop. Even minor roles are well cast. Kathy Lamkin, in a small role, couldn't be any more realistic as the impersonal, haggard manager of a fast-food restaurant.
I found "In The Valley Of Elah" entertaining as a mystery. The terrific casting and acting, along with high production values, render a film that is both realistic and highly believable.
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