Complete A-Z list

In the Valley of Elah


Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, Frances Fisher

Director: Paul Haggis

There are the bare bones of a good thriller here, but the way they've been fleshed out doesn't exactly make for compelling viewing. Retired military policeman Hank (Jones) is told his surviving son Mike has gone AWOL following his return from combat in Iraq. His hunt turns into a murder investigation when the boy - or bits of him - is found buried and chopped up.

Police detective Emily (Theron), the butt of her male chauvinist colleagues, becomes involved when Hank proves that his son was killed on civilian rather than military territory, and their enquiries gradually centre on three of Mike's fellow soldiers who were with him on his last night out.

Hank makes some interesting deductions along the way - such as working out that a blue car was identified as green because it was under a yellow light - but they don't seem to lead to anything substantial. Nor is the denouement especially revelatory or exciting, leaving us with a confused feeling - although the theme of the effect of service in Iraq on US soldiers is chilling in itself.

Jones gives a suitably haunted (and Oscar-nominated) performance that betters by far his languid work in No Country for Old Men, but such formidable players as Sarandon (as Hank's wife), James Franco and Josh Brolin have frustratingly little to do.

David Quinlan

USA 2007. UK Distributor: Optimum. Technicolor.
121 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 23 Jan 2008