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Saturday, May 24, 2008


Left I at the Movies: In the Valley of Elah

A week or so ago I finally got around to watching In the Valley of Elah, about the disappearance (which, I don't think I'm giving anything away, quickly becomes the murder) of a soldier just back from Iraq. It's not primarily about the war itself, although it is that, and as a "police procedural" it's just ok (the mystery isn't that complex; if you like murder mysteries, you're better off watching Monk or Inspector Lynley or Miss Marple or all sorts of other things on TV). But the acting, notably from Tommy Lee Jones as the father and Charlize Theron (who I didn't even recognize for the longest time) as the main cop involved in the investigation, is excellent.

What the film is really about is the soldiers, and the effect the war has on them, and in that, it's really good. I've written many times here (I'll skip the links) about, for example, soldier suicides, spousal murders, and other tragedies of the war (and war in general), but this film really brings home that kind of thing very effectively. For me, one of the most poignant lines in the whole movie was when one of the soldiers in the dead man's unit tells the father about how much he hated every second that he spent in Iraq, and that when he got home, he only wanted to go back - not only a commentary on how the effect the war had had on his psyche had made him useless for other things, but also on how hard it is in many cases to even find a job for someone whose main training is in killing people.

One of the things I like about DVDs, as I've mentioned before, is the extras, and watching the extras on this DVD I learned two very interesting things. First, the movie, while not a documentary or even a docu-drama, is very much based on a true story. Knowing that, for me at least, gave the movie even more weight. And second, that most of the actors playing soldiers in the movie, and I'm not just talking about the extras in the background, were chosen by director Paul Haggis (a frequent speaker at antiwar rallies in Los Angeles, by the way) because they had recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it's clear that they bring something to the movie as a result which probably wouldn't have been there otherwise.

How often do similar stories repeat themselves? The very day after I watched the movie, this story appeared in the news, about a Camp Pendleton marine found shot to death near his base; just yesterday, another Marine was arrested for the murder.

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