...engaging and discerning culture, as a way of life...

February 23, 2008

In the Valley of Elah - 6

With the many films about the war in Iraq as a subtext coming out, this film could get lost as just another film trying to be political. In fact, this film rises above the simple "politics of now" and portrays the aftermath of war in a complex and compelling manner. While the plot is driven by Mike (Jonathan Tucker) status as AWOL and eventually discovered dead, the focus is on Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) a retired Army man of a different era, on the search for his son. This generational difference becomes the major theme in the film, as Hank holds to the values of honor and courage, while the Army he witnesses through the friends of his Mike's colleagues, seem cynical, damaged, and lost. Who Hank is looking for becomes murky as relationships are in pieces, needing connection. Hank begins to connect through Detective Sanders (Charlize Theron) who decides she has nothing to lose, her respect on the job is at almost zero, and the two of them take up an informal investigation. She is a single mom, and the title of the film comes when Hank retells the story of David and Goliath to her son, who is lost to its meaning and significance. The investigation soon delves them deeply into the effects that war has on young people, who must not only adapt culturally, but also psychologically, to the trauma they are witness to. The film slowly draws out this story, making it a war film with very little action and violence. The film uses minimal dialogue but shows the power of war and the pain of those involved below the surface of the way we speak and how things appear on the outside.

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