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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (2007)

Banking on the inexplicable critical & commercial success of CRASH/’05, Paul Haggis had the clout to get this tough, dour Iraqi war/homefront drama made. But he had no more luck finding an audience than a dozen other high-profile Iraqi-themed projects, including THE HURT LOCKER/’09 with its gaggle of Oscars. Apparently, the conversation has moved on. Haggis makes a decent stab at parsing the social issues that came home with some of the physically & psychologically brutalized vets, but halfway thru you realize this is a pretty standard police procedural, tricked up with unearned war significance. It’s not so different from one of those cold & dank WALLANDERs on Masterpiece Theatre, or a sedately somber JESSE STONE with Tom Selleck. As the retired military investigator who insists on uncovering the grim facts that led to the death of his soldier son, Tommy Lee Jones is more animated than we’ve seen in a while (though his face has collapsed into an odd reflection of the elderly Elisha Cook. Jr) and Haggis called in a lot of favors to cast even the small roles from strength. James Brolin, Susan Saradon, James Franco, all worth the trouble. But why Jason Patric, that black hole of the screen? He sucks the energy out of anything he touches. And does Haggis really believe that out-of-control sadistic behavior and inside-the-ranks military atrocities only occur as a sick reflection of combat in ‘bad’ wars?

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: It works too hard, right from the start, but THE HURT LOCKER gets closer to the grist of the matter.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The comment about Elisha Cook, Jr. qualifies . . . no? (see above)

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