The other day I went to take my daughter some lunch at work. She works at the independent theater in town. Before I left, she asked it I wanted to see a movie. I wanted to see several because they are showing six movies I haven’t seen. I ended up seeing In the Valley of Elah because I didn’t want to miss the performances of Academy Award winners Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon, although I didn’t really know what it was about other than it involved the military. Charlize Theron, another Academy Award winner is also featured prominently in this movie, although I’m not really her fan.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Hank Deerfield, the father of David, a soldier recently home from Iraq. He isn’t really home, he is serving the remainder of his time at an army base. Hank and David are quite close and exchange email often. They are particularly close because Hank is a retired MP and Viet Nam veteran and the two talk military all the time, sharing their experiences. Another son, whom we never see, was also in the military but was killed in an accident. Hank and his wife, Joan (played by Sarandon) dote on their remaining son.
At the beginning of the movie, Hank gets a phone call from the military who is looking for David who has gone AWOL. Hank doesn’t believe his son would go AWOL and decided to drive the two days to the military base to see if he can find his son and get some answers about his disappearance. At the base, he encounters no help, although they do allow him to view his son’s room. It seems that all the doors are closed to him. Hank surreptitiously steals his son’s cell phone from his room to look for clues.
Hank takes the phone to a wireless specialist and he asks him to lift the videos off of the phone, which has been damaged. The process will take some time so Hank decides to wait around town. The videos that are restored from the cell phone will later prove crucial to Hank learning the truth about David. He then goes to he police to report his son’s disappearance but as David is in the military, the police say it is out of their hands. The detective, Charlize Theron, seems sympathetic but insists there is nothing she can do. She will later join Hank in his search to find the truth.
For the next hour we follow Hank in his quest to find the truth about his son who’s dismembered body is found in a part of town belonging to the military. The military takes over the investigation but soon it is clear to us and to Hank that they are covering something up. Hank will eventually find the truth about his son. A truth that no parent ever expects or wants to hear.
Through the course of the movie we learn about the horrors that servicemen and women have to endure in Iraq and the orders that they must follow for their own safety and for that of their unit. The truth about David Deerfield’s disappearance and murder should make us think about war and about our involvement in other countries and putting our youth in harm’s way. It should also teach us that we must take care of these soldiers when they come home. They can’t be discharged and sent out into the world to fend for themselves. The military must care for these men and women whose lives they have been responsible for ruining.
This is film is rated PG-13 for harsh language and nudity. We also see the graphic remains of the dismembered body.
The title comes from the story of David and Goliath, perhaps referring to the United States as the giant who was caught off guard by the “little guy”. It is based on the real life story of Specialist Richard R. Davis who was found murdered four summers ago shortly after coming home from Iraq. The screenplay was written and the movie directed by Paul Haggis who directed Crash.
The performances of Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron do not disappoint. Susan Sarandon, although her role is minimal, delivers a strong and convincing performance as not only the mother of the dead soldier but also of the husband who “took her sons away from her” by getting them involved in the military.
Don’t miss this one. I don’t believe you will be disappointed in it.