Nov 102008
Authors: Marjorie Hamburger

“In the Valley of Elah” is the most powerful film that has come along in ages.

Paul Haggis, the writer and producer behind “Crash,” “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Million Dollar Baby,” produced and directed this movie that was released in September of 2007. Tommy Lee Jones stars as Hank Deerfield, a former Vietnam military policeman, whose son, Mike, returned to the U.S. after a tour in Iraq, and immediately went missing. After the army base calls Hank to inform him that Mike has gone AWOL, Hank decides to leave his wife (Susan Sarandon) to search for his son at Ford Rudd Military Base.

After days of fruitless searching, Hank gets the help of a reluctant police detective, Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). The two collaborate to discover what occurred after Mike returned from Iraq. Unnerving information begins to surface. After taking Mike’s cell phone from the military base, Hank is able to view scratchy video footage that reveals distressing images of his time in Iraq. Both Hank and Detective Sanders question each soldier in Mike’s squad, but the soldiers’ compelling stories never quite seem to collate. As the truth unravels, the soldiers’ untold actions are exposed. Their experiences in Iraq are brought home to the U.S. The lingering images of war are expressed in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, brain injury and more. The staggering consequences not only affect the soldiers, but everyone around them.

The events that occur when soldiers come back from war are not exaggerated in the film. It is an unfortunate reality that U.S. veterans are not getting the mental health care and support they need. The grim results often involve broken homes, abusive relationships, suicide and even murder. For those who doubt the sincerity of these statements, take a look at the recent murder cases around Ft. Carson for starters.

The acting in this film is absolutely superb. None of the roles are overplayed; they are simply honest. Tommy Lee Jones’ performance is one of the best. His actions, body language, and facial expressions speak volumes. No other actor playing the role of Hank and having half the effect. The relationship between Hank and his wife is exceptionally sincere. Though the focus of the film is not on Susan Sarandon’s character, her presence in the story is vital and poignant.

Theron’s role as Detective Sanders is also a well-suited choice. While she could be viewed as a very seductive figure, she is instead a desexualized, powerful woman who stands alone, completing the movie’s integrity.

The power of this movie cannot be underestimated. It is the type of film that can potentially change the viewer’s understanding of those sent to war. The themes of this film weigh as true to life today as they did at the beginning of the Iraq War and perhaps all wars before this one. And what happens to our returning soldiers must be understood. Rarely do I encourage an entire audience to see a movie as everyone differs in their film taste. However, “In the Valley of Elah” is a movie every American should watch in order to understand the soldiers we send to war and the personal loss that comes with it. This is debatably the most influential film I have seen that remains strong to the unforgettable ending.

Staff writer Marjorie Hamburger can be reached at

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