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Unpatriotic Tone Obstructs In the Valley of Elah

  • Eric & Lisa Rice Crosswalk.com Contributing Writers
  • 2007 9 Sep
  • COMMENTS
Unpatriotic Tone Obstructs <i>In the Valley of Elah</i>

DVD Release Date:  February 19, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  September 21, 2007
Rating:  R (for violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality/nudity)
Genre:  Drama/Thriller
Run Time:  122 minutes
Director:  Paul Haggis
Actors:  Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, Joseph Bertot, Brent Briscoe, Devin Brochu, Josh Brolin, Mechad Brooks, Chris Browning, and Wes Chatham.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following review has several plot-spoilers that are necessary to allude to in the worldview discussion.

In the Valley of Elah is a propaganda film that preaches this message:  If you are stupid enough to send your son to war in Iraq, there’s a high chance he will do drugs, torture the enemy for fun and turn so psychotic that he’ll learn to cooly murder his fellow soldiers for no good reason.  And you, oh naïve parent, will learn to disdain American military leadership, policies and all America stands for, including the flag. 

It’s sad, too, because when you read the teaser for this movie, it sounds like an intriguing murder mystery that will be solved by some impressive characters portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon

If you’re like us, you might have envisioned the cool Jones’ lines from The Fugitive that went like this:  “Alright… Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is four miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive's name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”

Well, get all that out of your head because In the Valley of Elah doesn’t hold a candle to The Fugitive—or most of the other Tommy Lee Jones movies.  Perhaps he took this lame, boring, insulting-to-most-of-America script on because he agreed with its insanely liberal slant.  After all, Jones is known to write most of his most memorable lines himself.

Here’s the story:  Hank and Joan Deerfield (Jones and Sarandon) find that their son, Mike (Jonathan Tucker), is missing outside his army base, which is somewhere near the Mexican border.  He’s recently back from fighting in Iraq.  Hank is a patriotic American who not only served in the Army himself, but sent his only two sons to war as well.  His oldest son was killed in a helicopter crash several years earlier, so he and Joan are particularly bent on finding their son.

Hank travels to his son’s base and swipes a cell phone from his room, and he pays a techie to unscramble some video that might yield clues about Mike’s disappearance.  Bit by bit, the techie e-mails Hank, some horrific pieces of war video.  In the meantime, Hank finds out that Mike is dead—stabbed and burned and dismembered. He teams up with Detective Emily Sanders (Theron), and slowly begins dissecting the mystery. Conveniently, Hank is much better at figuring out clues than any of the detectives—both military and civilian—and must use his steely skills to break the silence and unearth the truth about his son, his friends and the whole war-in-Iraq debacle.

In the Valley of Elah gets its title from the 1 Samuel 17 that Hank tells to Emily’s son, though he leaves out all allusion to God or the power of God.  Perhaps audiences are supposed to pick up a subtle message about instruments of combat needing to be not so fierce, or lone rangers needing to not fear bullies?  If so, is the bully the American military? 

In general, the movie is slow and ponderous.  The filmmakers tried to mitigate the boredom by throwing in tons of useless footage of strip clubs and bars.  There’s plenty of seedy frontal nudity, including pole dances and topless waitresses, and tons of profanity.  And whenever Hank wants to bond with someone, he simply drops into a liquor store and buys a big bottle of something, along with two paper cups. 

The big problem with Elah is its worldview.  Its anti-war, anti-American sentiments will insult servicemen (many of whom we know, who are giving their lives in patriotic service to our country, who are not on drugs and who do not turn psychotic after they complete a tough tour of duty in Iraq.)  It will likely offend most patriotic Americans, all Bush-supporters and all families who are trying to shield their children from sex, violence, nudity and most of all, overt propaganda.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Smoking, drinking, drugs portrayed often.
  • Language:  Excessive, with dozens of obscenities and profanities.
  • Sex:  Nudity, pole dancing at bars.
  • Violence:  Shooting, burning, stabbing, murders, charred bodies, etc.
  • Worldview:  War turns normal guys into psychotic killers.