Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Joseph Bertot, Brent Briscoe, Devin Brochu, Josh Brolin, Mehcad Brooks, Wes Chatham, Barry Corbin, Wayne Duvall, Frances Fisher, James Franco, Rick Gonzalez, Sean Huze, Zoe Kazan, Kathy Lamkin, Judy Marte, Paul McGowen, Jake McLaughlin, Josh Meyer, Jason Patric, Arron Shiver, Jennifer Siebel, Glenn Taranto, Jonathan Tucker, Victor Wolf, Wendy Worthington
Written by: Paul Haggis, based on a story by Mark Boal, Paul Haggis
Directed by: Paul Haggis
MPAA Rating: R for violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 117
Date: 09/01/2007

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Soldier Down the River

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director Paul Haggis follows his Best Picture Oscar winner Crash with another "social realist" film, though this one is combined with a detective story, perhaps in an attempt to tone down his longing for another Oscar. A career military man, Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) gets a call that his son has returned to the U.S. from Iraq, but has disappeared. Hank decides to conduct his own investigation, with the help of a lowly, but spunky young police detective, Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). The mystery itself is not particularly inspired; it suffers from too many false "conclusions." The best part is Jones' nifty performance and his rocky, clipped way of revealing clues that others have overlooked. In-between Haggis drops in lots of dialogue about and images of Iraq, worrying about how it changes people, turning them into unfeeling monsters. Predictably, Hank begins to doubt his own lifetime commitment to the military, though Jones handles this transition well. Theron is stuck in a routine role as the dreary single mom and picked-upon female in an all-male workplace; she strips off her makeup and dons bulky clothes in an effort to repeat her two Oscar nominated performances in Monster and North Country. Even worse, Susan Sarandon gets only a handful of scenes as the waiting wife/worrying mom. Roger Deakins' beautiful cinematography makes the film look professional, but it doesn't disguise the fact that Haggis isn't a particularly inspired or visual director. Working with other directors like Clint Eastwood, Haggis' socially responsible material can be toned down, but working for himself, it reveals itself in an uneasy blend. In the Valley of Elah

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