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Movie Review: In the Valley of Elah

Alternate Title: A Nation in Distress

Story: This is a must see film for any lover of cinema. It has a great script, incredible acting and an eye opening, riveting story. It is brilliantly directed by Paul Haggis (Crash) and written by both Paul Haggis and Mark Boal. Boal's original article on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Death and Dishonor) amongst returning vets from Afghanistan and Iraq first appeared in Playboy and is the basis of this film.

It is not an anti-war movie per se but it is about how we treat our returning soldiers and what the real, profound costs of this particular war are. It is a who dunnit in the grand old style of film.

The film takes place in late 2004. You can hear President Bush in the background speaking about the war and the terrorist threat. You can also hear John Kerry as he makes his run for the office. There is nary a comment on either man. Their words and history speaks for itself. A retired military officer discovers his son has gone AWOL upon returning to the States. He is convinced the military is giving him the runaround and decides to find him by himself.

The discovery of a body and the unraveling of the crime slowly strips away the lies, the cover-ups, the madness of the war weary Vets and the eventual truth.

It is one of the best films I have seen this year and like Jack Nicholon said in A Few Good Men some of you might not be able to 'handle the truth'.

For more background on this terrific film go to this article a out Mark Boal's original article on PTSD and the returning Iraqi Vets. http://sev.prnewswire.com/publishing-information-services/20070212/CGM04712022007-1.html

Acting: Tommy Lee Jones is nothing short of brilliant as the distressed father. It is his best work ever. Charlize Theron can act - end of story. Susan Sarandon, as the soldier's mother gives a heartbreaking performance. The rest of this ensemble cast are all terrific including: Jason Patric, Barry Corbin, Josh Brolin, Frances Fisher, Wes Chatham, Jake McLaughlin, Mehcad Brooks, James Franco, Jonathan Tucker, Wayne Duvall, Victor Wolf, Brent Briscoe, Greg Serano, Brent Sexton, Devon Brochu, Zoe Kazan, Glenn Taranto, Jennifer Siebel, Kathy Lamkin.

Predilection: None

Critters: There is a scene where a drowned dog is discussed but you do not see the dog.

Food: Chicken, eggs, toast and an unidentifiable pasta dish.

Sex Spectrum: There are a few male butt shots seen in a shower and lots of boobs in bars near the base.

Soundtrack: Appropriate

Opening Titles: The opening shots of the father set the stage for the rest of the film.

Visual Art: Cinematographer Roger Deakins manages to film a New Mexico dessert and environs as if all life has been drenched and bleached out of it. Marvelous.

Theater Audience: Very crowded for a midweek, midday show.

Weather: The dessert is hot.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: War is hell

Drift Factor: I was riveted throughout.

Predictability Level: I hit the nail on the head for some things but did have a few surprises.

Tissue Usage: I wept a bit.

Oscar Worthy: Oh my yes. I cannot imagine that Tommy Lee Jones would not get a nod for this film and perhaps Haggis would get another nod too.

Soap Box: This war sucks.

Big Screen or Rental: Big screen for sure. For some great rentals try any of my favorite Tommy Lee Jones films are: A Prairie Home Companion. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Missing, Men in Black, Cobb, Natural Born Killers, The Client, The Fugitive , Heaven & Earth, .JFK , The Executioner's Song, Coal Miner's Daughter

Length: Under two hours