In the Valley of Elah

Year: 2007
Production Co: Summit Entertainment
Director: Paul Haggis
Producer: Paul Haggis
Writer: Paul Haggis
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jason Patric, Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Josh Brolin
Studios thought the American public wanted movies about the Iraq war, but they stayed away in droves, so this is another thoughtful meditation on the destruction of America's soul that's come straight to DVD in Australia. Even the name of uber-scripter Paul Haggis couldn't sell it.

When a young man returns unexpectedly from a tour of duty in Iraq and promptly disappears, his career military father (Tommy Lee Jones) goes to the base where he was stationed to look for him, his only clues patchy and disturbing video clips from his son's mobile phone.

When the young man's body is found burnt, dismembered and scattered through the nearby brush, nasty connotations start to arise about drugs and fights in the platoon, and the hero teams up with a reluctant local cop (Charlize Theron) to find out what happened.

On the surface it's a detective story, but the deeper subtext alludes to a country sickened, its youth corrupted and damaged irreparably by a war based on cruelty and brutality rather than combat and honour.

Asides into the difficulty of single parents, career women and even topless waitresses all find their way into Haggis multi-faceted script, and while the film (he also directed) could have descended into a long, preachy exercise in endurance, he's too adept at wrapping a moral up in a story to turn you completely off.

The most interesting part of America's obsessive soul searching after any major conflict it's involved in - through the prism of Hollywood - is their lack of foresight. Most of the world was telling the US Iraq was a tragic mistake before the first soldier even landed there. Now that's a movie that'd sell.

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