Truth is a strange thing. You may seek to know it with all your heart but finally when you uncover it, you wish that you had never uncovered it in the first place. “In The Valley of Elah” is one such film which takes you with it in search of one such truth which a father must uncover to find out where his only son is? However the closer he inches to the truth he finds it to be more and more inconvenient. Be it the lousy places his son went to, the possible drug abuse that he might have been a part of and finally the horrendous state in which his last remains are found reeks of nothing but anomaly.
Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones), an aging warrior, gets a call that his son, just back from 18 months’ fighting in Iraq, is missing from hisbase. Hank drives to Fort Rudd, New Mexico, to search for his son. Within a day, the charred and dismembered body of his son is found on the outskirts of the town. Deerfield literally pushes himself into the investigation, marked by jurisdictional antagonism between the Army and local police. Working mostly with a new detective, Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), Hank seems to close in on what happened. However the evidences point fingers to multiple angles. Was it a brawl? Was it a smuggling gone wrong or a drug deal gone awry? The film simmers for the next 2 hours as Deerfield looks to uncover the truth.
In the beginning of the film Deerfield lifts a phone from his son’s belongings and hands it over to a techie who he asks to revamp the videos stored in the phone and mail it back to him. Throughout the duration of the film, the guy mails him multiple videos as he goes on backing them up. Each of these videos arrive at a crucial stage deeply impacting the proceedings of the film and interestingly enough, the last video practically nails the mental state of Deerfield’s son and that of his group members for the audience. While the film gradually takes us to the point where we uncover the story behind who might have killed Mike, it also runs a parallel narrative sighting the mental wellness and being of the men who were in Iraq using Mike and his company as subjects.
With every passing scene the viewer gets interested about what was the reason behind the gruesome murder of the man only to find out in the end that it was an act committed for anything but reason. When questioned on why they went to have chicken after mutilating and burning their friend, one of the killers exclaims, “we were starving!”. This line alone throws a veil of unprecedented shock and silence over the men present at the investigation including Mike’s father showing how screwed up the men’s mind were. The film also a wonderful subplot involving Sanders and a woman whose husband, back after the war, had drowned their dog in the bathtub and she comes in to complain about that to the police saying it was not natural for someone to do such a thing and that her husband was not well. Everyone of the officers ridicules the situation and sends her back. Towards the end of the film, the woman is murdered by drowning exactly in the manner that her dog was killed. Sanders breaks down in the crime scene holding the body in her hands for not taking her seriously.
Theron and Jones work up a sensational chemistry as they complement each other perfectly and provide their characters the perfect foils to portray their expressions. As the film progresses, Theron’s character which starts off as a bullied individual finds her footing using Deerfield’s case as her inspiration. She takes on her fellow detectives and by the time the film ends, they start rallying behind her, a fact well depicted in the scene when one officer leaves for the day wishing her good night and she gently smiles back. On the other hand, Jones’s Deerfield’s realizes that he now lives in a world which he hardly understands. At the beginning of the film, he rectifies a man who is hoisting the US flag upside down saying that it could be done only if the country was in peril. Later in the end, he himself hoists the flag upside down, communicating his understanding of the fact that how troubled the country was(as its sons returning from the war were broken beyond repair).
Paul Haggis introduces numerous such deft touches which elevates the film’s treatment and effect. The film deals with a wide range of emotions and issue and is able to do so successfully. Apart from Theron and Jones, Jason Patric turns in a special performance. The film not only boasts of some superb essays but each of the performances are in strong keeping with the material which in turns has a compounded effect on the proceedings.
In The Valley Of Elah is not only a superb entertainer and a gripping thriller but is also a heart touching story which affects you. Therein lies its greatest triumphs. This is a must watch.