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Friday, September 21, 2007

'In the Valley of Elah' Opens Nationwide -- A Selection of Reviews and Clips

Since last Friday, lucky moviegoers in LA, NY, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and DC, have had the chance to catch the new Paul Haggis film starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon. (Last weekend's returns were a whopping $14,839 per theater compared with $4,889 for Jodie Foster's "The Brave One.")

Opening nationwide today, "In the Valley of Elah" has been receiving great reviews. I'd like to share some of those with you, as well as a few film clips of this important film.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

[Scroll down for film clips.]

New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Maps will tell you it's a world away, but the Valley of Elah is closer to home than you might think. Perhaps, as Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis suggests in his latest film, "In the Valley of Elah" -- a movie that is every bit as important as it is powerful -- it is too close to home.

Well-stocked with Oscar-winning actors -- Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron -- "Elah" presents itself at first as a melancholy and low-key detective story, but as the story unfolds, it changes into something else entirely. By the final 30 minutes -- details of which the filmmakers have politely asked reviewers to keep under wraps -- it reveals itself as a sobering and thought-provoking tale about the persistent wounds that war inflicts on men and women in uniform.

Columbus Dispatch:

Haggis' new film, which is set almost entirely stateside, is slow, somber and discreetly framed. It takes its cue from its central character, a retired Army sergeant who served in the military police and for whom ironclad control is first nature.

Tommy Lee Jones pours his underspoken authority into the painful role of Hank Deerfield, an unapologetic patriot who will interrupt an important errand to see that an incorrectly displayed American flag is flown properly. ...

In the Valley of Elah...uses a murder mystery to explore the psychic wounds brought back from a war zone by people who might have done things too horrible to face, much less share with a parent whose career was built on a firm concept of military honor.

Jones carries the film by blending Hank's confident strength with a father's heartsickness about what has happened to his son and how much of a role his expectations might have played in his son's tragedy.

That suggests a political argument, but Haggis' film avoids debate over the wisdom of our involvement in Iraq and the daunting mission our troops have been asked to tackle. This could be a drama played out in any war in which innocence and civility are inevitable casualties.

Tulsa World:

The writer-director who made audiences debate race issues with his Oscar-winning “Crash” turns to another hot-button topic with the powerful anti-war film “In the Valley of Elah.”

Showcasing death and dishonor among American troops — arguing that war dehumanizes our soldiers in Iraq, who in turn bring that altered reality home with them — it is another polarizing picture that will produce cussing and discussing.

Paul Haggis has created a complex tale that is equal parts detective story, father-son story and confirmation that the first casualty of war is innocence. ... But the star of “In the Valley of Elah” is the clever, provocative dialogue that Haggis uses to make a murder mystery something deeper.

While those words sting and sometimes prompt anger, they are important elements in films such as this — works of art intended to help heal the wounds of war.

Orange County Register:

Writer-director Haggis has created an issue-oriented intrigue of rock-solid confidence and rigor, especially after the cathartic grandstanding of his Oscar-winning race drama "Crash" (2004). Visually, the movie is a somber stunner, with a moody, gray-green palate perfectly suited to the story of a father driven to full, dark understanding.

Inevitably, that means a re-education for Hank, but one should not mistake him for some rough-and-tumble Cindy Sheehan stand-in. Rather, Hank represents the families of soldiers whose disillusionment has reached a quiet boil, and Jones portrays their plight with a strong but eminently humane face.

Pleasanton Weekly:

Writer-director Paul Haggis has crafted a film of austere power.

The deceptively simple story of a parent's grief over the death of a son and his need to discover what happened slowly builds into a penetrating inquiry about the casualties of war. Whereas Haggis' "Crash" smashed into controversial issues with a metal-to-metal crunch, his second feature whispers.

Haggis' script and restrained performances by the cast put the viewer on common ground with the subject matter. Tommy Lee Jones plays Hank Deerfield like an Everyman who quietly wears the aches of a lifetime in the bags beneath his eyes and the slow hitch of his walk.

Seattle News-Tribune:

“Elah’s” rage does not express itself in shouting or polemics; it’s hidden from view and ruthlessly contained at first. It surfaces only gradually until at the very end when the movie concludes not with a cry but with a devastating, despairing silence. It’s the silence of reverence for sacrifice, the silence of people struck dumb by grief over lives lost and lives warped.

Grand Rapids Press:

The immediate dichotomy presented by "In the Valley of Elah" is regarding the value of human life. In war-torn Iraq, death is experienced on a daily basis. More than 3,700 U.S. troops have died in the four-plus years since the war started, and a recent report racks up Iraqi civilian casualties well past 1 million. Soldiers die there daily. It's almost expected.

When one is killed on U.S. soil, though, it's murder, warranting intense scrutiny. Untimely, violent death isn't supposed to happen here. But when it does, it opens an ideological can of worms. Soldiers suffer from near-debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder, which reflects poorly upon our government's foreign policy decisions. The armed forces are implicated, too, for perhaps not offering adequate mental-health treatment for the traumatized, and we have to wonder if they're more concerned about bad publicity than suffering individuals.

Salt Lake Tribune:

As the war in Iraq continues with no end in sight, I'm afraid we are in for more movies like "In the Valley of Elah." What I truly fear is that those other movies won't be as thoughtful or as moving as the drama director-writer Paul Haggis (his first movie since "Crash") has crafted about the personal costs of war. ...

Each of Haggis' Oscar-winning leads brings out facets of grief and resolve, with Jones particularly affecting as a man who realizes too late that his son may not have been prepared for combat - or that this kind of combat is more bewildering than anything he faced in his day.

Haggis doesn't preach overtly about the wisdom of the U.S. mission in Iraq or the competence of those in charge. He is examining the effects of any war on the human soul, on those in the fighting or their loved ones back home. If there is a message in "In the Valley of Elah," it's that it takes more to support our troops than sticking a ribbon-shaped magnet on the back of a car.

Canada AM:

Canadian-born director Paul Haggis attempted to tap into what was happening with U.S. soldiers in Iraq with his new movie "In The Valley of Elah." Judging from the feedback he has received he may have succeeded.

After a recent screening of the movie in Washington, D.C., Haggis met three women within five minutes who each thanked him for making the movie. All three told Haggis that either their husbands or sons had killed themselves within a week after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Haggis said the experiences of the women he spoke to show that these effects of the Iraq war on soldiers are not isolated incidents.

Seattle Times:

"So many suicides have been reported, and there are so many homeless returning soldiers, living in ramshackle conditions," he said. "This is a national problem, and we're just ignoring it."

Although the movie stars Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon as the parents of the murdered boy, and Jason Patric and Frances Fisher have key roles, several of the supporting parts are played by unknowns: veterans whose memories of Iraq were fresh.

"There's a level of truth there that's really hard to fake," said Haggis, who has shown the picture in rough-cut form to soldiers. "I didn't want to make a film that veterans would find false. It's not easy for them to watch, but they do say it's a true experience."

National Post (Canada):

The startling, chilling conclusion is even more frightening when we recall that Haggis based his script on actual events, detailed in Death and Dishonor, an article by Mark Boal that appeared in Playboy magazine in 2004. It's the kind of lesson that was probably learned and forgotten by the veterans of Vietnam; it seems that every generation's war feels like the first, with the slate wiped clean and all the mistakes ready to be discovered and made anew.

Buffalo News:

There are already voices on the Fox television network decrying “In the Valley of Elah” as a slander on U.S. soldiers in Iraq, but it seems to me a far subtler and less polemic film than that and all the more moving for being so. I wish it were as coherent, plausible and cogent as it is subtle and moving, but don’t expect polemics or anything like the horrific, vile kind of soldierbaiting that afflicted bad movies and TV in the Vietnam era (not “Coming Home” or “Platoon” but all that Hollywood garbage that routinely turned Vietnam vets into murdering psychos).

Detroit Free Press:

Haggis, who long ago became a U.S. citizen, makes no show of impartiality. "You know how conservatives always say, 'Hate the sin, love the sinner?' Well, I admire the people who serve their country for all the right reasons, but not the people who send them to die and be shot at for all the wrong ones. If some people get angry about the movie, good. I want Americans to see this and think about what we're doing. Then do something to stop it."

Clip 1
Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) confronts Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) about helping him solve the mystery surrounding his murdered son.

Clip 2
Joan Deerfield (Susan Sarandon) insists on seeing the body of her deceased son while arguing with her husband Hank (Tommy Lee Jones).

Clip 3
Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) fights for the right to pursue answers regarding the death of an Army soldier.

Clip 4
Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) speaks to one of his deceased son's former comrades about a picture his son e-mailed to him while on duty in Iraq.

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