Political Film Society - In The Valley of Elah


PFS Film Review
In The Valley of Elah


 

In The Valley of ElahIn the Valley of Elah, directed by Paul Haggis, is a combination of Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) but focuses on the Iraq War. One day, Hank Deerfield (played by Tommy Lee Jones) receives a telephone call from a New Mexico military base that his son Mike (played by Jonathan Tucker) is AWOL, though he has returned home from Iraq without informing his parents in Tennessee. A member of the army’s Criminal Intelligence Division (CID) in Vietnam, Hank then drives to the base to locate his son. During the early part of the film, when almost inaudible televised remarks by George W. Bush extol the virtues of the American intervention in Iraq, the army provides no further information about his son. What can he do? To galvanize the CID on the base, he telephones a buddy only to find that he has also retired from the army and knows nobody in the current CID. He pleads with Emily Sanders (played by Charlize Theron), a recently appointed detective of the Bradford Police Department to investigate, but she counters that the matter is in the army’s jurisdiction. Then a body surfaces; though chopped up, burned, with bites taken out of the flesh by wild animals, the city police fail to investigate because the body is found on the military base. Military police identify the body as that of Mike but promise no further investigation. Knowing that the military often covers up wrongdoing, Hank then begs Emily to drive him to the place where the body was found. In doing so, he quickly points out to her that several important clues have been ignored. Out of guilt for her mistake, she then gets permission to reopen the case and even invites Hank to a dinner at home, where he meets her young son David (played by Devin Brochu). While she attends to housework, he is asked to read from a children’s story but instead tells him the story of David and Goliath, in which the Philistines and Israelites were encamped on opposite sides of the Valley of Elah until David, a mere boy who conquers his fear of the enemy giant, uses a stone to fell Goliath with his slingshot, a paradigm that filmviewers will understand as the way in which Iraqis are defeating Americans. As Emily’s investigation proceeds, Hank obtains sufficient film footage from his son’s cameraphone in Iraq to conclude that the assignment in Iraq is destroying the souls of the American army, who quickly learn that the situation is “fucked up,” whereupon they take drugs to survive, and return to America in search of alcohol, women, and even to sell drugs that they bring back. Eventually, Emily and Hank discover the soldier who killed his berserk son and at least one accomplice, but Hank returns home to fly the American flag upside down in front of a school, a sign of a country is in distress. In the Valley of Elah has been nominated by the Political Film Society for best film exposé, best film on human rights, and best film on the virtues of peaceful resolution of conflict. MH

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