Friday, 1 February 2008

Film Review: In The Valley Of Elah (cinema)

Having thoroughly enjoyed Paul Haggis' 2005 film Crash, I was keen to see In The Valley Of Elah from the same director having heard good things about it. I was definitely not disappointed.

The film doesn't really fall down in any significant way at any point. It takes a short while to gather momentum (although this feeling could have been because the sound wasn't working in the cinema I was in for the first two minutes of the film; until I see the film again - which I intend to do - I won't be able to judge), but once it gets there the film is just excellent for the next two hours. Haggis brings many techniques to the table that we saw in Crash, something that pays dividends for him once again in this film. The skilled cinematography coupled with a fine script give Haggis' film a gritty yet polished realism. The plot for me, whilst being based around the ideas and events of the Iraq war, never became too patriotic or partisan in its messages. Whilst there are patriots and closed-minded characters within the film, I felt it very easy to distunguish what was meant to be the opinion of these characters and the film as a whole. That message to me was the sheer insanity that war can create in a variety of different ways. To portray insanity in such a controlled and believable way shows the extreme skill Haggis most certainly possesses.

Turning to the cast, again very few faults can be noted. Susan Sarandon is marvellous in her supporting role as the mother of missing, later dead, soldier Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker). The scene where she learns of her son's death from her husband Hank (Tommy Lee Jones) is one of the most powerful in a film full of highly impressive scenes. Charlize Theron also puts in an excellent performance as Detective Emily Sanders. Although many of the challenges her character comes across (such as sexism from male co-workers) have been tackled many times before, she brings to her role a freshness and authenticity that means her character never becomes a cliche.

It is Tommy Lee Jones, however, who deserves the highest praise for his powerhouse performance as Hank Deerfield. His balance of playing a cantankerous aging know-it-all who is also a seriously distraught grieving father looking for answers is perfect. You're with him all the way through, feeling his frustrations and sadness, his anger and despair, and believe in his character every second of the film. Jones proves to the world that he truly is a heavyweight veteran actor, one of the very best in the business right now, and far above playing slapstick comedy roles in films such as Men In Black. Not that I don't like Men In Black. But I'm sure you'll feel the same way as I do once you see Jones in In The Valley Of Elah: if he can make films this fantastic, why did he even consider Men In Black?

Verdict:After a slightly slow start which is quickly forgiven, In The Valley Of Elah reaches the heights of Crash, signifying another cinematic triumph for Paul Haggis. But if you only see it for one reason, that reason has to be Tommy Lee Jones. Superb. 9/10

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