In the Valley of Elah is a pretty good film, made absolutely mesmerizing by the way Tommy Lee Jones inhabits his role. The lined face, the slight haggardness, the way he keeps his emotions in check: it is his film. The sense we have of not quite knowing who he is, which seems mirrored in the way he somehow has a feeling of might-have-been around him, defines his character. And it flashes into relief when we learn that although he was a military policeman (and apparently quite a good one, judging by the skills he displays) these days he just hauls gravel. Without Jones, this would be a workable thriller with interesting plot twists. With him, it is not so much an indictment of the Iraq War as a close look at the problem societies have when they take their sons and train them for war, only to have them come home unable to abandon their training. It asks a lot of questions, and I found it fun to note that a lot of “users’ comments” scattered here and there are uncomfortable, to put it mildly, with the idea that there could be anything at all wrong with America’s leaders, their war, or their soldiers. I should note that it isn’t just Jones either; the rest of the cast deliver fine performances too. Oscar-worthy, in fact, though there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that they’ll get them. I doubt they’ll even get nominations.

[rating: 4]

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