The film is inspired by the true events of the murder of soldier Richard Davis. His father Lanny Davis jumped in to suit up and find the real truth behind his son’s demise. While Paul Haggis adds some fictional characters, in its core it sticks to the incident. World Wars paved way to show the atrocities and the possible redemption for humans in films and then came the Vietnam War to repeat the cycle. Now it is Iraq. Still there is so much material to be learned upon to not go through war again which have seen in “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”. Looking back and now, with every attempt to make an anti-war movie there still comes up one more to produce another one of the same. Ironically tragic.
Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is meticulous, systematic, immaculate and a war veteran. He is a father too. Look how closely and carefully he makes his bed, shines his shoes, shaves in the morning, dresses up quickly when women comes up and a face with suppressed and controlled emotions. Jones plays Hank as some one who cannot be made to be confided or to confide. The detachment he creates and the enormity of being the “man” with the traditional previous generation Army guy is going to line him for the nomination for numerous awards. But you see age has moulded him into another dimension which can only been seen by him, alone in a room. It is his way anywhere he goes, even in a remote motel. Even persuading some army young kid to speak up, he pulls him to his zone. Then he moves the coins and gets the answer. He looks for things and looks hard enough to outsmart any police detective.
As perfect and seasoned he behaves and appears as the tough straight army veteran, there are things untold about him. We then know that is how he reacts. He kind of questions the belief of war happening now. Is the sanity maintained in the massacre in World War and Vietnam in his times? Definitely not. May be he would have heard the stories and seen the movies but I guess he believed in the greater good or the percentage of right soldiers in the team. A war where they abided the code and ethics, as he explains the story of David and Goliath in the valley of Elah to the son David (Devin Brochu) of Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). The code gets broken or not but the men and women turn into insane human beings. Or may be they had the skill as Hank, and had a way of maintaining themselves when they returned home. Unfortunately even Hank questions it. When the ammunitions are in place, does it really matter to have the concept of conscience out there? Is there any psychological consolation out of it when the process of ethics and code are followed? May be there is, but it is a band aid for an amputated leg.
As spotless in correlating and linking the chains of cause and action in the film, it is Tommy Lee Jones who provides that leverage for the script so dependent on his enactment. The supporting role by Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon as Hank’s wife Joan is adequate and precise. Sarandon has now can easily sleep walk through any role like this and able to knock us down fair and square. Charlize Theron’s Emily Sanders fights in and outside the walls of the police station. With couple of sexists and drooling envies around the colleagues, she finds the openness and acknowledges the pain of Hank. The only real close conversation Sanders is able to make up with Hank is a final “Thank you”. Every other thing pertains to his son’s case and every movement is for a terse signal of communication. The chemistry is odd and they along with understanding it begin to behave according to it.
There are those tiny things in various sequences which tell a lot about how much of the knack and cleverness they brought into the movie with the correct whiff of emotions it would have demanded. After Joan is shown from top camera view taking the news of her son’s death through the phone from Hank, there is the phone table down with candies scattered probably from her collapsing. They do not show that. We see the scene starting from Joan asking questions to Hank sitting down. We understand what happened.
With Haggis scripting and directing, the high and soaring flag of message is the one every anti-war movie cries. Movies keep on coming on about the balanced terror created all around the world. As any one would watch it over the TV or read it in news, we see the bunch of the people who in the name of country, religion or any other thing we can come up with to face and give death. We do not know them and hence while there is this empathy, the world goes on and the time we dedicate dies along with it. Of course there is no avenue for the factor sitting with every one and may be have a chance to speak to their disturbed and damaged soul. It is movies like “In the Valley of Elah” which may not deliver that one on one conversation but encourage enough to hunt ourselves to relieve the devil inside.