Sunday, September 30, 2007

In the Valley of Elah (2007, Paul Haggis)

Yes, you read that right- I preferred the new Paul Haggis movie to the new David Cronenberg. Maybe Crash was a movie Haggis needed to get out of his system, as if the film's success allowed him to make a movie that wasn't trying nearly as hard to impress people. Or maybe it's just that the murder mystery story of Elah hews more closely to Haggis' background in episodic television, giving him a clean narrative through line rather than the tortured contrivances of the previous film. Wisely, Haggis lets his actors shoulder much of the emotional weight of the film, and Tommy Lee Jones is more than up to the task, giving perhaps the best performance of his career. Hank Deerfield is a hard, emotionally withdrawn veteran, and Jones gives a performance with no wasted gestures or actorly mannerisms. Look at the way he trembles during the fateful phone call to his wife, or the un-softened manner with which he tells the story of David and Goliath to Charlize Theron's young son. In the Valley of Elah is surprisingly apolitical in his approach to the War in Iraq, as Haggis doesn't lay the blame at the feet of the government or the armed forces, but merely questions and despairs at the logic of our country sacrificing its young on the battlefield. Much to my surprise, I was actually thinking Elah might be one of the best films of the year, but then I saw the final few minutes of the film, in which we first see the characters underscored by a baldly heartrending ballad, after which Haggis feels the need to go and Haggis up an otherwise fine film with a positively groan-worthy final shot. Why, Haggis? I was with you right up until the end, pal- why did you have to piss it away? Rating: 7 out of 10.

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