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'Valley of Elah' a Drama of Post-War Trauma

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'Valley of Elah' a Drama of Post-War Trauma

Arts & Life

'Valley of Elah' a Drama of Post-War Trauma

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And if you decided to skip TV and go straight to the movies, you'll find theaters full of pictures that resonate with post-9/11 themes. The first one opens this weekend. "In the Valley of Elah" is about an American soldier who has come back from Iraq.

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN: "In the Valley of Elah" may sound like a film about a picturesque spot but it isn't. Everyone has the glum look of individuals bringing a very important message to the world. And while the film does have something crucial to convey, this is not the way to go about it.

Tommy Lee Jones plays a retired M.P., a former Army lifer with impressive investigative skills. When he finds out that his son, newly returned from Iraq, has gone AWOL from his base in New Mexico, he heads out to the territories to find his boy. But the Army stonewalls him, as does a local police detective played by Charlize Theron.

(Soundbite of movie, "In the Valley of Elah")

Mr. TOMMY LEE JONES (Actor): (As Hank Deerfield) I know you're busy but all I need you to do is make one phone call to his bank and find out if he made any withdrawals or used his credit card in the last week.

Ms. CHARLIZE THERON (Actress): (As Emily Sanders) Retired cop or you just watch a lot of TV?

Mr. JONES: (As Richard Davis) Military police, retired.

Ms. THERON: (As Emily Sanders) Then, you should know. Army's jurisdiction over its own personnel. I'm sorry. I hope you find your son.

Mr. JONES (Actor): (As Hank Deerfield) Hey, I don't know what you think your job is, but if it's anything like mine was it's to roll up drunks, twiddle your thumbs, not ask too many questions. But my son has spent the last 18 months bringing democracy to (bleep) and serving his country. He deserves better than this.

TURAN: "Elah" is director Paul Haggis' follow up to the Oscar-winning "Crash." It's an honorable, earnest film that deals with the subject not usually touched on by Hollywood - the pernicious effect war has on the young people we send to fight. But paradoxically, the film's sense of responsibility is almost paralyzing. The production is overwhelmed by the seriousness of what it's attempting. Almost all of Elah's elements including lethargic performances from Jones and Theron combined to leached out whatever vigor the film might have.

Everything in "Valley of Elah" takes too long to play out. And while the film likes the thought of Jones and Theron as an investigative odd couple, they come off as no more than grim and grimmer - too mournful a team to make any kind of emotional connection.

If you want to see where "In the Valley of Elah" might have been stronger, take a look at the highly adrenalized "The Bourne Ultimatum" still in theaters. Both films explore propaganda about doing what it takes to save American lives and the effect it has on individual soldiers.

Admittedly, "In the Valley of Elah" is a very different kind of film but it could've used some of Bourne's life force in spreading its critical message.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

I'm Renee Montagne.

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