"My son has spent the last 18 months bringing democracy to a sh*thole!" growls Tommy Lee Jones in Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah, a fact-based mystery that counts the human cost of Uncle Sam's Iraq crusade. Based on the case of a US soldier murdered shortly after returning from the Middle East, the film has Jones's Army vet teaming up with cop Charlize Theron to investigate his boy's death. The results make for powerful, downbeat drama with an anti-war message.
Taking its title from the Biblical setting for David's confrontation with Goliath, Elah initially follows the well-worn formula of an odd-couple police procedural. (Keen to prove herself to her superiors, Theron jumps at the chance to investigate the murder only to be continually shown up by Jones's superior experience.) Red herrings abound as suspects are interrogated, evidence is uncovered and connections are drawn between the soldier's demise and an atrocity he witnessed over in Iraq. Gradually, however, Haggis widens his focus to explore broader questions over America's self-appointed role as world policeman and the trauma suffered by the young men and women charged with putting its unpopular foreign policies into practice.
"BLEAK AND SOMBRE"
It sounds heavy and it is, Haggis's sombre direction taking its cue from his star's grizzled features and bleak visuals that continually set his driven patriot at odds with his surroundings. Some mild humour is provided by Theron's testy dealings with boss Josh Brolin, though, while Susan Sarandon makes the most of her few scenes as Jones's anguished wife.
In The Valley Of Elah is out in the UK on 25th January 2008.