In The Valley Of Elah (Blu-Ray)

Cover Art and Menus: 5/10
I wonder if I’m just getting immune to the effects of cover art? I find that these days I am pretty neutral. Nothing stands out, nothing is amazing, nothing catches my attention enough to make any quality judgments. This cover is representative of the film with the American flag and two unhappy people standing in front of it. Those unhappy people are Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron. It’s fair to say the cover is understated considering the story and the big themes it delves into. The menu is pretty much the same thing. It’s a still image of the two, and the flag, but with the popup menu we are all getting used to these days. Overall it’s a very subdued packaging choice for such a powerful story tucked inside.

Features: 8/10

  • After Iraq & Coming Home – These are two separate extras on the disc, but they are really pretty much following the same theme. They cover the background of the young men who play the servicemen in the movie, some are actors some are actual military men who have served in Iraq. There are interviews, fly on the wall segments on the set, and more about the true story behind the movie. It’s a good effort in the area of DVD extras.
  • Additional Scene – This scene is finished, as it would have been in the movie, except they have cut in the ‘unpolished’ bits of how they make the young woman look like she has lost an arm and a leg. The scene introduces a character we do not see in the final cut of the movie, and some dialogue that doesn’t do much for the story except maybe to paint the missing young soldier in a worse light than the movie ends up doing. It’s a good scene, but I agree, it didn’t fit quite right in the film.

Movie: 9/10
In the Valley of Elah is a film with that certain quality I can’t describe. I know, that doesn’t make for a good movie review, but I’d rather say I can’t put it into words than to feed you a load of ol’crap and hope you understand what I’m saying. What I can say about it is that it drew me in. It’s methodical and restrained. We meet the father of a young soldier who is apparently AWOL from the Army after coming home from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Tommy Lee Jones plays the father, who we quickly understand to be a determined, regimented man. He immediately takes a flight to a town near a base where his son is supposed to be stationed and begins his, well, for lack of a better word, investigation. He questions the son’s fellow soldiers, commanding officers, and even goes to the police with a missing person’s report.

It’s clear from the beginning that he thinks something has happened to his son and the military isn’t doing enough to find out what it is. This all sounds pretty straight forward, but between the to speak, a portrait of a family starts coming together. There are moments of coldness between the father and his wife. Subtle hints that are beautifully portrayed by Susan Sarandon and Jones. I felt like I got a clear idea of what this family and this couple have been like for many years. The son, as seen through the eyes of his father, is a top notch soldier, well behaved, can’t do any wrong. As things unravel about what has happened to him we find out the son wasn’t so perfect. The father has to come to terms with this reality and others. His faith in the Army, even after having been a career soldier years ago, falters as he pursues the details of his sons disappearance.

That is what I feel is the heart of this story, a man who goes from believing in one thing, having one very specific view of the world and being forced to see everything from a different angle, and that’s not what he wants. The ways we see him fall apart are peripheral, not so much in your face. In the beginning he wakes up at the crack of dawn, makes his bed old Army style, and takes great pride in his appearance. As we follow the story he begins to oversleep, his motel room becomes less tidy, he’s not as concerned about pomp and circumstance. This mirrors what must have been going through is mind as his whole view of life deconstructs. He never backs down from the search for what’s happened to his son. He never seems to be out of control or as if he can’t handle the whole truth. We just see the weakening of his faith in systems like law enforcement, military, even his own parenting style.

He comes across a young single mother who’s a police officer. Charlize Theron plays a tough but not obnoxious woman who reluctantly takes on the case of finding the missing son. She cooperates with the father, often without the full support of her boss. There is that side story of how hard it is for her as a woman in an all male setting, but it’s not a big part of the overall story, just enough to build up who she is and why she makes some of the choices she does through the film.
Jason Patrick and Josh Brolin both do a good job in their roles. Patrick is in the military and does his best to follow the rules but often without the compassion we want for this family. Brolin plays the police chief prick, has no compassion, and he’s good at it. A lot of the young soldiers are played by actual veterans from the war in Iraq so they bring a certain authenticity to that side of things. It’s an excellent cast, not one person I can think of who didn’t contribute to the mood and feel of the movie. Sometimes you might get the odd flat note in a cast, but not this time around.

The tone of the movie is never cheery and the tension never lets up. I was pretty much tuned in for every word every action, in every scene waiting for what would come next. There are bits of the story that I don’t want to talk about due to the fact that I think it would spoil the experience for you. That’s me deciding that for you, of course. The thing about this movie that makes it so good, for me, is that it’s awkwardly familiar and comfortable but upsetting at the same time. I know people who think they are right about everything and have blind faith in things like government, military, news reports, church, and what they were taught to believe all their lives. They refuse to look past the veneer of perfection and accept the flaws, or accept anyone else’s ways of life, opinions, etc. It’s hardest for those people to cope when the curtain falls and the truth is revealed.

The thing that’s revealed to me in this story is the tragic way we send young men to war and bring them back to “normal’ life without preparing them to cope with the horrors they have seen and things they have done while in combat. I haven’t thought about it that much before, but it’s always there between every news report and article in the paper, it’s just that no one every really takes it very seriously. This film doesn’t shy away from the message that we pretty much suck at taking care of our soldiers. We send them to war, they live and are expected to come back and just get over it. I’m glad In The Valley of Elah takes us on an important and even controversial journey in a way that doesn’t scream at us, but still gets us to pay attention, which is a well crafted piece of filmmaking.

Audio & Video: (By Ascully) 8/10
If you listen to our After The Show Podcast each week you will probably be aware we have just installed a home theatre in our basement, so now we are rocking a 100 inch screen and projecting onto this screen in  full HD1080P resolution. This really seals the deal of the argument for Blu-Ray disc, when you are looking at standard DVD at 100 inches up scaled you tend to see artifacts and pixels as everything is much larger. With Blu-Ray at 1080P or even 720P I do not notice any distortion in the picture infact it looks pristine with a real film like image. Blu-Ray is the future folks and while you might not notice much difference on a 27 inch set you really will when you move up to 50 inches and above. In the valley of Elah looks amazing even though the director did purposely soften a lot of the shots, the sound is also quite good even though the movie is quite dialog heavy. If you have the means spring for the Blu-Ray you will notice the difference.

Value: 5/10
Rent it. I’m not saying it’s not an amazing film. It is. I’m saying this isn’t one you will most likely revisit again and again. It’s great for an evening of quality entertainment, but not great with that $20+ price tag.

Overall Score 8/10