After his army son goes AWOL, retired military policeman Hank Deerfield (Jones) heads off to find his errant boy. His search proves complex, however, and he enlists the reluctant help of a local detective (Theron).
Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t need to prove his acting chops, not that anyone would dare request it. But if he did, this month’s two performances - the other in No Country For Old Men - would comfortably do the job. Elah, the second directorial outing from Crash’s Paul Haggis, was supposed to be a victory lap for an undoubted new filmmaking talent, but it’s Jones’ film to its boots.
Jones admittedly has a stock character - stoic, manly, seasoned by the years and the mileage - but it’s the subtle variations that make him a joy to watch. In The Fugitive, he added implacable and a soupçon of sympathetic; in Men In Black, he served it deadpan. Here he surpasses previous accomplishments with his layered portrait of Sergeant Hank Deerfield.
This is an older, weary Jones, lacking the breezy self-assurance of his ’90s thrillers. Deerfield displays the tics of long service - shining his shoes before bed, neatly packing a bag with military-issue white T-shirts before setting off in search of his missing army son. There’s a lovely moment as he sits in his undershirt in a laundromat, when he rushes to don a (still wet) shirt before he can bear to talk to Charlize Theron’s lady cop. Such martial habits emphasise the warm heart beneath and the sadness in his eyes. It’s devastatingly affecting, and most likely the performance of the year.
Without Jones, though, the source material (based on a true story that appeared in Playboy) could have come across as plodding - a sort of The General’s Daughter with lofty aspirations. Haggis’ screenplay tries to be both whodunnit and political comment, and succeeds far better in the former - an effective riddle signalling military cover-up, drug trafficking, suicide and murder.
Frustratingly, Haggis still displays the same soft spot for overt symbolism and grand dramatic gestures that made Crash such a divisive experience. But despite his continued emotional prompting, it’s the performances he elicits from his quality cast that make this a more convincing and personal picture than his sometimes artifical, surprise Oscar-winner. Susan Sarandon and Theron stand out. Sarandon has a tiny role, transformed by a late-night phone call with Jones that is beautifully played, her anger directed at the father whose love for the military put their children in the firing line. Theron, meanwhile, is a beleaguered police lieutenant and single mum, a downbeat role she plays with depth and honesty.
So is it a portrait of the dehumanising effects of war, or the poor state of the nation, or just a murder mystery? A slightly fumbled last act would have us believe it’s all three, and it almost convinces. But compared to the recent big ideas of The Kingdom and Lions For Lambs, Elah is a simple family tragedy. Approach it as a personal take on universal injustices, free from bombast and preachiness, and you’ll be rewarded.
Tense, powerful and considerably less crass than Crash, Elah may be jammed with ideas that don’t all connect, but Jones’ devastating performance makes this a compassionate and very human look at the Iraq conflict.
Reviewed by William Thomas
tommy lee jones has given some great performances
but this is his greatest performance it was written for clint eastwood but nobody was better cast than tommy lee the authority the sad eyes the voice an oscar worthy work from one of the great character actors can't wait to see THE COMPANY MEN ... More
Posted by bill the butcher at 12:25, 05 June 2010 | Report This Post
|Boring. Dull. Slow.|
See comments above. ... More
Posted by tysmuse at 19:09, 07 March 2010 | Report This Post
| RE: Valley of Elah|
Seeing an old man like Tommy Lee Jones cry, broke my heart. His performance was great! ... More
Posted by nelsonmoens at 13:04, 19 July 2008 | Report This Post
| RE: Valley of Elah|
Caught this last night and apart from a couple of minor mis-steps(the flag) thought it was excellent.Generally downbeat in tone I thought it captured the mood of the family's loss.
ut how small, old and frail TLJ looks in the final interview as he fails to comprehend whats being said to him. ... More
Posted by kasm at 11:02, 10 July 2008 | Report This Post
|Valley of Elah|
Haunting, brilliant. Masterwork by Jones and Theron is quite good. A moving portrait of modern American life and the effects of war on people. ... More
Posted by lynnshep at 00:31, 03 July 2008 | Report This Post
|tommy lee was robbed|
this was my 2nd fav film of the year (after no country) if that daniel d d fellow hadnt come out to play this year then tommy lee would have walked to oscar glory with this film . ... More
Posted by ishar at 08:55, 26 June 2008 | Report This Post
|Boring And Depressing.|
Way too long, too much talking and not a lot going on, In The Valley Of Elah is a very boring and depressing movie. Sure the perfomances by Tommy Lee Jones was good but the other people were pushed at the back hardly used. It was like the Jones and Charlize Theron show! Pointless for Susan Sarandon, James Franco and even Josh Brolin who is drop dead sexy and would have brought the movie interest. It was so slow! No way this should be a Oscar nod, only for Tommy Lee Jones but there is nothing els... More
Posted by joanna likes films at 11:02, 14 May 2008 | Report This Post
great performances, and having just watched No Country for Old Men strange seeing how many actors are in both movies. ... More
Posted by bagrot1 at 21:32, 30 March 2008 | Report This Post
| RE: Great Movie.|
It had some many layers it simply blew me away. Susan Sarandon's acting was amazing.... The sense of loss. The racism with the father beating on the Mexican soldier (because he had to hit back at someone - ala America and IRAQ). The way it portrayed the creation of monsters (how the soldier felt hungry after killing a man), who make it back as something society wanted you to fight against in the first place.
Even down to the little visuals of the flag and a nation in distress.
Posted by seansshack at 11:01, 24 March 2008 | Report This Post
Great Movie. ... More
Posted by nc_jj at 01:40, 09 March 2008 | Report This Post
|Excellent. Dark and Disturbing.|
A masterpiece. ... More
Posted by nc_jj at 01:39, 09 March 2008 | Report This Post
Tense, powerful piece of cinema and very human look at the Iraq conflict(quote from Empire which i totally agree with.)..Over all the movie was really good.The performances of Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon and Charlize Theron as a small town cop pushed around by her colleagues and superiors is excellent.
It keeps you interested for its full two hour screen time without having to resort to tricks with just good writing and convincing performances.
Posted by batrico at 00:54, 09 February 2008 | Report This Post
Caught Paul Haggis's latest film last night. Seems to be getting decent reviews, with kudos for Tommy Lee Jones performance. Jones's character is a retired ex-MP seargent who served in Vietnam, and whose only children, two boys, are both soldiers serving in Iraq. The first died in a training accident a few years ago. After getting the call that his youngest son is listed AWOL after returning to the states for a break, and a subsequent call that the remains of his son have been found mutilated a... More
Posted by Lightfoot at 10:22, 08 February 2008 | Report This Post
havin seen this film about a weekago i cant really think of any memorable to say about it it has soon faded from my mind charlize theron the reason i went to see it in the first place gives another strong gutsy performance in the ilk of north country and monster. the film is shot in that fashionable blue tinge which suggests worthy tl jones is who he is the performance very similar to no country for old men less is more... More
Posted by quizkid at 12:22, 06 February 2008 | Report This Post
A very good performance from Tommy lee Jones anchors this film. Quite moving and compelling. ... More
Posted by Ace Rothstein at 14:12, 02 February 2008 | Report This Post
|Amazing performance by Tommy Lee Jones, but by god does it get dull by the end!|
In the Valley of Elah is a strange movie, its a movie that is both amazing and heartwrenching, yet oddly lifeless and boring as well. The movie is amazing whenever it deals with the emotional side of things, especialy the scenes where Tommy Lee Jones and the sadly underused Susan Sarandon talk. The scene where Sarandon finds out about her sons death is an amazing scene and one that I shall remember for a very long time. Yet when the movie focuses on being a thriller it falls very flat, the whole... More
Posted by 02PARSIM at 22:12, 30 January 2008 | Report This Post
|Valley Of Elah|
Where Lions For Lambs stumbled, Haggis’ latest succeeds by effectivly uses a whodunnit to highlight a wider crime of conscience that’s being committed against both an unjustly occupied country and an army ill-equipped to handle the trauma of pursuing a vastly unpopular venture . Where Lions For Lambs stumbled, Haggis’ latest succeeds in putting dramatic form to the disquiet over US policy. Tommy Lee Jones’ performance, is impressive enough to make him a decent bet in th... More
Posted by moviemaniac2 at 20:01, 30 January 2008 | Report This Post
| RE: Film of the Year|
Jones and Theron were both good as always and the story was compelling and gripping from start to finish. Basically a whodunnit but one that gets you thinking. 4/5 ... More
Posted by benmharper at 15:20, 30 January 2008 | Report This Post
| RE: Film of the Year|
An excellent film with a truly great performance from Tommy Lee Jones. Far superior to 'Crash', this film tackles it's big ideas with subtletly and intelligence; riveting stuff from start to finish. ... More
Posted by mackey at 00:11, 30 January 2008 | Report This Post
|Film of the Year|
Yet again I'm stunned by an Empire review. How can this possibly only get 4 stars and 'No Country for Old Men' gets 5? This film had everything, fantastic acting (especially from TLJ), brilliant direction creating and enhancing all of the emotions, and to top it all a powerful storyline that reminds you of the power that film has, but is so rarely used. Haggis really is THE outstanding director of the 21st century so far. ... More
Posted by timbailey60 at 22:26, 29 January 2008 | Report This Post
A very bleak washed out looking film that really reflects the mood. Some great acting on display particularly from Tommy Lee Jones. There's a great movie in here but I think it's slightly overlong, with a few too many pensive shots of Jones sitting in a motel room. The story keeps you gripped but at times the pacing is wrong. 7/10 ... More
Posted by Marvel_79 at 08:14, 28 January 2008 | Report This Post