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Hank Deerfield is a retired military police officer living in Munro, Tennessee with his wife Joan. Their son Mike had joined the military and was sent off to fight in Iraq. With Hank’s background and their pride in their country, they are two parents that couldn’t possibly have more pride in their son. Yet they still await his arrival back home. Only they had no idea what kind of troubles would befall them once he finally did come back to them.
Early one morning, Hank gets a phone call advising him that their son had recently been brought back home with his platoon; he has now gone AWOL. Hank is advised that Mike has only a certain amount of time to return back to the base. Finding it hard to believe – and not even being able to get Mike on his cell phone – Hank decides to look a bit deeper into the entire situation.
Hank starts placing some phone calls and reaching out to anyone he possibly knows in order to find out what truly happened to Mike because he knows his son wouldn’t just leave. He soon drives off to Mike’s base and begins searching around and asking some questions. Many of the guys who know Mike don’t take it very seriously and believe it isn’t anything to get worked up about, but Hank knows differently. When he begins to unravel some truths about his son, then Hank takes it upon himself to really batten down and find out why the outcome had to be the way it was. It has been a long time since he has fully trusted anyone, and now the system he once believed in so strongly is also starting to lose the faith of one of its greatest sergeants.
There isn’t much to say about this film then what I’ve described to you, but I’d also be hard-pressed to find anyone who considers In The Valley Of Elah to be boring. Based on a true story and quite hard to grasp no matter who you are, it isn’t a film that you’ll be smiling or laughing a lot during. It is quite somber and almost gets to the far stretches of depressing at times. It does nothing to hide the horrible truths that can come from being in the military or even worse, being the parent of someone who is or was in the military.
Tommy Lee Jones has long been one of my favorite actors from his role in The Fugitive all the way to Space Cowboys, and everything in between, before, and beyond. Hardly will you find a better actor then him who makes you watch a film such as this one or No Country For Old Men and think you have known him (the characters) personally for years. Sit there and simply watch the scene in where Jones tells Charlize Theron’s character why she should help him and you’ll feel as if the man who is lost truly is his son.
From time to time, I really wasn’t sure what to believe when watching In The Valley Of Elah. Was it simply a film or something that goes on every single day in the world for parents and loved ones looking for their own and hoping they come back from the battlegrounds? Would someone really have the courage to go around as Jones did and search for his son or would they let someone shoot them down on their first attempt? It makes you sort of question your own motives in life and whether you’d have the oomph inside to stand up for what is right. It’s not meant to be inspirational and it isn’t meant to encourage you, but it did both of them for me.
The film is shown in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen format and it looks gorgeous. Everything is crystal clear with bright colors when needed and darker shadows without ever going too bleak on nighttime and more somber scenes.
The film is heard in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and it also is fantastic which makes In The Valley Of Elah that much better. Every bit of dialogue can be heard clearly and crisply while the music pounds through for emphasis in the more serious moments (most of the film) and times when words just aren’t necessary.
In The Valley Of Elah: After Iraq – This is the first part of the “making of” documentary and it lasts about twenty-eight minutes. One of the coolest parts of this is watching the actors and extras learn the military ranks and how to act as a member of the military. They are being taught the procedures, the stances, and how to respect the uniform even if it isn’t really yours. A lot of them were actually in the Army, Navy, or some branch of the military so it wasn’t a big stretch for all of them to learn everything. Many share their feelings on the war and send well-wishes to those they know over in the war.
Tommy Lee Jones also shares his feelings for director Paul Haggis and the character of Hank Deerfield which he plays in the film. All the strippers are also shown backstage and interviewed giving their feelings on meeting real soldiers in their line of work.
In The Valley Of Elah: Coming Home – The second part of the “making of” can be viewed separately as well or in its entirety with the first part. This segment lasts about sixteen minutes. More focus is put on the filming in this segment and also on the opinions of the real soldiers and how they felt after coming back from being in the field. It is quite an interesting look as to how they react to being on their own again and also dealing with some of the things they saw and did while in service.
Additional Scene – This single scene runs close to eight minutes and is extremely intriguing. It takes place right after Hank has his first visit to his son’s barracks. Searching through some of his belongings, Hank finds the name of a woman who knew his son and he finds her in the ward of a VA hospital that has soldiers who have lost limbs in battle. Not all the shots are complete as sometimes her missing arm and leg are actually gone while in others, they are not. It’s still a good scene none the less.
Trailers – Darfur Now, State Of Play, Pu-239, and Rendition
I have a strong feeling that a special edition DVD of In The Valley Of Elah will come out eventually with a lot more special features, an extended version, or even a two-disc set that has everything you could have ever wanted. Still, if you’re looking to find a film that is…well, it’s hard to say enjoyable honestly. The film is fantastic, realistic, and intense complete with flawless acting, a miraculous plot, and moments of a total morbid nature, but I wouldn’t call it enjoyable. A term signifying such excitement and happiness can’t be placed on a film that has a mood as In The Valley Of Elah does. It is a film that no-one should go without seeing and possibly watch repeatedly, but “enjoyable” just doesn’t quite describe it. The special features are in a small quantity but the quality of the documentary and even the single additional scene is superb. They are educational and intriguing to watch so spending the money on this DVD and the more then likely special edition to come would not be money frivolously spent.
Warner Bros. presents In The Valley Of Elah. Directed by: Paul Haggis. Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron, Frances Fisher, Jason Patric, Jonathan Tucker. Written by: Paul Haggis, Mark Boal. Running time: 121 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: February 19, 2008. Available at Amazon.com