Monday, March 10, 2008

In the Valley of Elah

I wanted to like this film with all my heart. Crash was a solid directorial debut from Paul Haggis and the cast for his follow up was top notch. Everything seemed right for him to just keep swinging for the fences. Alas, the Goliath plot amounts to little more than an actors showcase.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Hank Deerfield a former MP looking for his missing son (Jonathan Tucker) just back from the war in Iraq. During the course of his inquiry, he butts heads with a cop (Charlize Theron) and an army investigator (Jason Patric). The army feels as if they might be trying to cover something up, but what? The plot is the underlying problem. Paul Haggis seems to be trying to make a message film about our country while not chastising our military. It all seems to be too neat and tidy without the satisfaction.

The performance of Tommy Lee Jones was rightly nominated since his is the foundation upon with this film stands. Without Jones, the entire missing son plot would amount to little more than a Law & Order episode. Jason Patric brings his all as well... but it is curious since he is so forceful you might think he actually has something to do with it all. No... he just reminds you of what a good actor can do even in a nonessential part. Cameo performances from Josh Brolin, Brent Briscoe, and James Franco also add some fuel (or red herrings) to the fire.

Haggis seems to have set himself up and gotten lost on where he was going. Yeah we know the war in Iraq is messed up Paul... just like we knew race relations were in Crash... but you've gotta give us more than that. I think of something like Syriana which was able to be a message film, but was so much more in the big picture. Haggis needs to take notes from fellow acclaimed screenwriter/director Steven Gaghan was able to do on his second project. You've got to have that emotional climax or payoff after setting up an audience.


* This just made me miss Jason Patric even more.

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