The rest of the story
Ocarolan | East Coast, USA | 04/06/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Much has been made of the fact that this movie is based on a true story, the 2003 murder of Richard Davis, a story chronicled by Mark Boal in an extensive magazine article, "Death and Dishonor," that appeared in the May 2004 issue of Playboy (an article that can be found online and that is far more thought-provoking than this film). Some reviews go so far as to say that the film hews closely to the story reported by Boal, but the truth is otherwise. (The film opens with the statement that it was "inspired by actual incidents" - a statement that usually heralds significant dramatic license.) Indeed, of adapting his story for the screen, Mr. Boal, who shares writing credits for the story with director Paul Haggis (Mr. Haggis alone is credited with the screenplay), had this to say: "It's a fictional piece [the film], and so at various junctures Paul [Haggis] and I thought we should change Lanny's story to make it feel more universal." The Lanny to which Mr. Boal refers is Lanny Davis, the real-life father of the victim and the model for the character Hank Deerfield, whom Tommy Lee Jones plays. Exactly what was done to make the story "feel more universal"? Be advised that spoilers follow.
Lanny Davis, upon whom Hank Deerfield is based, is, in fact, a 20-year veteran of the Army, 16 of those years with the Military Police. About a month after his son, Richard Davis, was reported AWOL, from his first 2-day pass following his return from six months in Iraq, Mr. Davis traveled to Fort Bragg, where he spent several days trying unsuccessfully to motivate a missing-person investigation into his son's disappearance by either Army or civilian authorities. Failing in that effort, he returned home. About two weeks later he enlisted the support of his congressman, who had the clout to push the Army to investigate Richard Davis as a missing person. At first, the men in Davis's platoon stonewalled. Then, as the Army pressed its cross-examinations, a single soldier repeated a rumor that had been circulating: four members of the platoon had killed Davis and left his body in a wooded area, and he identified both the men and the area. The area fell under the jurisdiction of the Columbus (Georgia) Police Department, which promptly investigated and quickly located remains of the victim. The same day that remains were found, the Army arrested the four members of Richard Davis's platoon identified as responsible and delivered them into civilian custody.
The stories the men told authorities were of an alcohol-fueled night on the town, their first since returning from six months in Iraq, that turned violent. After being evicted from a club, the group was angry with the victim, whose rowdy behavior, it was claimed, was responsible for their eviction, and an argument ensued in the club's parking lot between the victim and one of the group. Then, so their stories went, the group got into their car and left, but as they drove the argument continued. They stopped at an unfamiliar location, got out of the car, and a fistfight ensued between the victim and the fellow with who he had been arguing. But at some point, one of the men pulled a knife and began stabbing the victim. The others claimed to have tried unsuccessfully to intervene. Afterwards, they dragged the body into a more secluded area, and later they returned with gasoline and set it afire. No one involved with the case believes this version of events - it is far more plausible that three of the group were active participants in the victim's death - but the confessions were enough to secure two convictions: one for murder and one for voluntary manslaughter. (The fourth person, whose presence in the group that night was deemed incidental, received five years probation.) The convictions satisfied authorities but not Lanny Davis, who believes his son was killed because he had knowledge of a rape committed in Iraq by the perpetrators, and he remains angry that has not been investigated.
Throughout the film, the Army is portrayed as impeding the investigation, of covering up, and of not cooperating with local authorities, which, as the record shows, is not true. Neither is it true that the civilian authorities were eager to avoid investigating the case. Lanny Davis did not play Sherlock Holmes and conduct his own investigation; neither did he beat a suspect (he first saw the accused at trial). The civilian detective played by Charlize Theron is fiction. (You'll have to ask Mr. Haggis why her fellow detectives and superiors are portrayed as sexist pigs.) There was no cell phone rich with imagery of soldiers acting badly; no suicide. Richard Davis's only sibling is a sister. (In the film he supposedly had a brother who was killed while a soldier, in a helicopter crash, which plays into an emotional scene in which Susan Sarandon asks Tommy Lee Jones something to the effect of "couldn't you have left me one?", suggesting that the father encouraged both his sons to join the military. In fact, Lanny Davis did not encourage his only son to join.)
Furthermore, the film seems to suggest that the killers were fine, upstanding young men so dehumanized by what they saw and experienced as soldiers in Iraq that not only could they viciously kill one of their own, they could be hungry enough afterwards to require stopping for fast food. In fact, the three soldiers convicted of Richard Davis's death were hardly fine or upstanding, a fact that leads to the more interesting question: what happens when we send misfits into an environment like Iraq. And as for stopping for fast food afterwards, I found nothing in the record to suggest that is anything but dramatic license. (Lanny Davis dismisses the suggestion that post-traumatic stress syndrome played a role in his son's murder.)
Some aspects of the film may be inspired by actual incidents, but incidents that had nothing to do with the Richard Davis case and which were included, depending on your perspective, either to stack the deck against the policies and institutions whom the director targets, or to make the film "more universal." For example, a woman tells Charlize Theron's character that her husband (a veteran of Iraq) drowned their dog in their bathtub, that she's afraid he will hurt her, and she appeals for the authorities to intervene. The response of Ms. Theron's character is to suggest the woman have her husband seek help from the VA. Of course, the woman is later found drowned in her bathtub. To avoid possible ambush, did Lanny Davis's son run over an Iraqi child rather than stop the vehicle he was driving? No. Might these two incidents be based on real events? Yes. Does their inclusion in this story make it more universal? You be the judge.
Tommy Lee Jones's performance has been justly praised, and he is ably supported by others of the cast. But the problem here is not the performances, it's the script. The film touches upon important issues but does so dishonestly in its quest to make the story "feel more universal.""
Tristan | 02/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There have been many films about the aftermath of war, but never have I seen such a brutally honest and shocking depiction of the de-humanization of soldiers back from war. This is the underlying premise of the new crime thriller from academy award winning writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash).
Hank Deerfield (played by Tommy Lee Jones) is a retired veteran and military police officer searching for his son who has gone AWOL. A detective Emily Sanders (played by Charlize Theron) becomes interested in the case and starts helping Hank outside of her job. When Hank's son's body is found, the search suddenly turns into a search for the murderer.
One of the many aspects I appreciated was that director Haggis did not turn this into a typical Hollywood crime thriller and also not turn it into a political propaganda piece against the war and President Bush. Instead he mixes the two plots together seamless and subtle, letting you decide for your self.
Tommy Lee Jones gives the best performance of his long career as he plays a quiet, emotionless war vet, but still shows tremendous amount of emotion. Just watching his face as he sits in a diner and listens to one of his retired friends tell him about plans to go visit his grandchildren is heartbreaking. We can almost see the internal emotional struggle as he realizes he will never be able to do that. Charlize Theron does a wonderful job as the detective, and despite her small screen time Susan Surandon plays the grieving wife of Jones to perfection.
This film is such a moving masterpiece on so many levels it is simply wonderful to watch. The quiet pacing of the film building up to the climax is captivatingly intense in its own way. I am sure this will be a popular film at the Oscars this year, and if they gave out awards for best scene this would be sure to garner a nomination for a simple, poignant, yet profoundly moving scene when Frank tells the story of David and Goliath (which took place in the Valley of Elah) to the little son of detective Sanders.
One of Tommy Lee Jones' strongest roles
R. Kyle | USA | 05/01/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After his career in the military, Hank Deerfield (Jones) settles down for a quiet life with his wife, Joan. He's not particularly worried at first when he learns his son is AWOL after coming back from Iraq--these things happen.
When the local police call to tell him his son's dead, Hank can't believe it and he enlists Emily Sanders (Theron) a local cop to help him solve his case. He gets his clues from his son's cell phone files, credit card receipts and testimony from fellow troop members.
The story's a harsh reminder that the war does not end when "Johnny comes marching home" and many of our troops and their families need help they're not getting from either the military or local officials. While Jones initially is only seeking to find his son, he uncovers a lot more about the realities of war than many of us would want to see. In my opinion, this is Jones' best performance yet.
Rebecca Kyle, April 2008"
"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how just
Medusa | Troy, MI | 01/20/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie was criticized in the magazine Salon for taking the easy way out and by the Los Angeles Times for incorrectly conveying an important message. In spite of such criticism, the director Paul Haggis won an award given by the SIGNIS at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, and Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Much as "Crash", the previous movie directed by Haggis, this movie presents a serious, controversial and divisive topic. Certainly it is expected that not everyone in the audience will be pleased by Haggis' strong and straight forward approach.
The plot of the movie is based on the actual experience of Richard Davis, an Iraq war veteran, who returns home in 2003 after he and his comrades participated in the April 11, 2003, "Midtown Massacre," in downtown Baghdad. On July 15, 2003, less than two days after returning from Irag deployment, Davis was murdered brutally outside Fort Benning, Ga by fellow soldiers.
Lanny Davis, the father of Richard Davis and a former military police officer, launches his own investigation to find out what happened to his missing son, because the army wouldn't investigate the case and treated it as AWOL/desertion.
While minor details and the names of the characters have been changed, Tommy Lee Jones is outstanding in the role of the father, who finds out the truth with the help of detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron).
While the investigation reveals the details of the murder, it also reveals the emotional and psychological destruction the American soldiers suffered watching innocents being killed by mistakes, women raped, and prisoners tortured. The movie is a close look at the dilemma soldiers face, when they go back to their normal lives after watching war crimes, and the loss of faith and ambivalence Americans feel between their loyalty to their government and the reality they are all faced with during the war.
Tommy Lee Jones out did himself showing conflict and confusion between a father's love and loyal citizen. Also, the ending of the movie is a thought provoking and symbolic one inspired by the United States Flag Code.
Now that president Bush is out of the White House leaving some unfinished business, I recall what Mahatma Gandi once said: "What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is brought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?". Six years after the beginning of the war against Iraq, what justification will we offer the dead innocents? What comfort will we give to the American soldiers who have suffered enormous trauma facing an enemy they don't even know and now question their values?
What brush will we use to paint the canvas of our history in Iraq? Will we use the brush of denial, self justification and delusion or the brush of perspective humility and profound sorrow at an action gone badly wrong?
I don't expect many people to agree with my review, especially because of the way we as a nation continue to hide our heads in the sand and follow with blind faith our sense of righteousness and superiority about the Iraq War. Great movies like "In the Valley of Elah' are the simple impetus that force people to open their eyes to wonder and question their actions and political maturity.