Tommy Lee Jones is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant
Jody | Northwest Ohio | 06/20/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The over long Valley of Elah delivers its anti-war sermon with all the subtlety of a sledghammer. Trust us, we get it. War turns people into creatures their parents don't recognize. It always has and it always will--that's what war is, and several much better movies have addressed it, like The Deer Hunter and Born on the Fourth of July. If VOE had contented itself with being a murder mystery and character study and let us draw our own conclusions on the order of The Hurt Locker, it would have been a much more powerful film. As it is, we're bludgeoned by both the main plot and an unnecessary subplot about an Army wife who is terrified of her husband. Throw in an element about how the flag is flown just in case we missed things the first time around, and the message becomes borderline insulting.
Inspired by a true story as is most fiction, the gist of the plot is that Pvt. Mike Deerfield has gone AWOL shortly after returning from combat in Iraq. His father Hank, who just happens to be an ex MP is alerted to Mike's status by a phone call from the base attempting to locate him. Hank solves the case despite the obstacles and lack of enthusiasm he gets from the Army and the local police and some very painful information he unearths. And oh, yeah--did I tell you the Army and the local police weren't helping much? The title comes from the Biblical location of David's epic slaying of Goliath, but I have no idea what that has to do with this story.
What is given the buildup for a grand conspiracy turns out to be a squalid, pointless Saturday night crime rather easily solved.
That said, this movie is a must see for the splendid acting which makes the weak script irrelevant. Charlize Theron is a wonderfully understated detective, Susan Sarandon is heartbreaking as Mike's mother, and Josh Brolin is a splendid good ol' boy police chief. The standout however, is Tommy Lee Jones' exquisitely nuanced performance. As Hank, Jones manages to balance and make believable an experienced investigator's exasperation with incompetence, a father's guilt, love and pain, and a soldier's discipline. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen and thank goodness the director had enough sense to spend a lot of time on Jones' face. At best, this movie would rate two stars for script alone, and three stars only without Jones' stunning performance. See this movie for the acting alone. It's worth it."