Written and directed by Paul Haggis, In the Valley of Elah deals with the effects that war (here, it is the war in Iraq) has on the soldiers who fight in it and, by extension, their relatives, but the film has little new to say on the matter. Its indirect approach to the subject often lacks nuance and reduces the emotional power of the story; however, the whodunit aspect is satisfyingly involving. All things considered, this is a worthwhile movie.
The strength of this deliberately paced but never tedious film lies in its character moments, among the best of which are the scenes with the main character and his wife. While the last scene makes sense from the point of view of the protagonist, it is too heavy-handed and unsubtle to have much of an impact on the viewer.
Roger Deakins’ appropriately bleak cinematography is very good, as are the other production values.
Tommy Lee Jones delivers an outstanding, layered performance. Solid, convincing acting by Charlize Theron. Susan Sarandon makes the most of her small role. Among the other cast members, Josh Brolin and James Franco are worthy of a mention.