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
And with the war still on, the theme of PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - is topical and relevant. Shell shock, they used to call it. It is more than shells these days, of course - it is the killing of children and innocents which has an appalling and destabilizing effect on the young U.S. men and women soldiers engaged in Iraq.
Paul Haggis who has made Crash amongst other good films, tackles this difficult subject with sensitivity depicting the dehumanization of the soldiers who come home to an indifferent populace.
Hank Deerfield (played by Tommy Lee Jones) is a retired Vietnam veteran who investigates the disappearance of his son and comes up against the brick wall of military police. A sympathetic detective, Emily Sanders (played by Charlize Theron) slowly takes an interest in the case and negotiates with her superior officer to take the case back from the military police who want to brush it under the rug. When Mike Deerfield is found, dismembered and scattered, Hank commits himself to getting at the truth.
This film is not an anti-war effort but rather the facts are all presented, and one is left to come to one's own conclusions.
Tommy Lee Jones gives one of his best performances here, a relentless, humourless driven father, who has not been the best father, but doesn't rest until he finds the closure he desperately needs on the matter of the murder of his son.
Susan Sarandon was totally underused in the part of the mother of Mike, but the little we are shown of her is riveting.
Charlize Theron plays down her beauty to the degree that she wears bandages and bruises on her face through many of the scenes and ignores the rampant sexism of her unit. A great performance.
I didn't care for the Valley of Elah metaphor which is at the core of the movie itself. The David and Goliath story did not have a relevance to a story of PTSD and the horrific effects it has on both perpetrators and victims. So I am left puzzled at this symbolism. A little guy taking on a giant? Who would be the little guy? The Iraqis?
However, that vexation aside, for overall tension and the sheer watchability of Mr. Jones in a meaty role, this movie gets an 8 out of 10 from me.
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