Thursday, February 21, 2008

In The Valley of Elah - Out now. (********8/10)

In The Valley of Elah did poorly at the box office. It turns out people just don't want to be challenged these days. This is why movies like "Meet The Spartans" debut at #1. I was almost ready to write a review of Meet The Spartans, sight unseen, simply to convince people to avoid it. The same guys who made Epic Movie and Date Movie, which were two incredibly bad films, were clearly going to make one just as bad. And I felt that people going to see this film at all would just encourage them to make more. And so next year we will likely get Pirates Of The Beowulf or some such garbage. But even had I done so, it would not have mattered much. People would still have gone out to Meet The Spartans in droves, and the dumbest two percent of those people would have recommended it glowingly to their friends. "They have a pit! Like the one in 300. Like, EXACTLY the SAME. And they kick Britney Spears into it! I have never laughed so hard in my life! Except for the time I took that IQ test and got a result lower than 'celery"". Meet The Spartans earned 18.7 million dollars in it's first weekend at the box office, narrowly beating Rambo for top spot. In The Valley Of Elah made 1.5 million dollars on opening weekend, and left theatres having earned 6.7 million overall.

I don't know why I'm mentioning Meet The Spartans and In The Valley Of Elah in the same sentence. I think it's merely a method of illustrating the general idiocy and apathy of movie audiences today. Because people do not want to be challenged. They don't want to think at the movies. And they certainly don't want a movie that will make them think once they have left the theatre. That's like bringing your work home with you! Imagine going to that movie with your wife, and then in the car on the way home, she wants to TALK about it! That certainly seems like more effort than it's worth, doesn't it? And, I'm sorry to say, for all you movie-watchers, that In The Valley Of Elah will spark discussion, and make you think, and might just lead to other topics of discussion as well. Topics like...Iraq. How this war is different. This war is not World War II. It is not even Vietnam. This is something that we haven't seen before, and in this film we see that perfectly through the eyes of Tommy Lee Jones, who has deservedly earned a Best Actor nomination for this Sunday's Oscars.

Jones plays the father of a missing boy. His son returned from the war in Iraq, and then disappeared completely. And Jones goes after him with the single-minded determination of a war veteran. A vet himself, Jones is that uber-American army guy who, after his many years of service, is still completely invested in the army. Not that he still works with them and does army-related things, but he is emotionally invested. He believes strongly in the bonds that connect soldiers, in the military code of discipline and in the army. Which means he believes the war in Iraq is important, that it is American and that it is just another proving ground for young men who love their country and are bringing democracy and peace to a backward nation. But his search for his son challenges those beliefs, and he will not be the same man when the search is over. In The Valley of Elah was in the top 200 movies at the box-office in 2007. It was in the top 100 R-rated movies. (Although I really don't know why this was rated R. We don't see that much of the blood and gore that is insinuated throughout the film.) And it had the 233rd biggest opening weekend of the year. But it is one of the 20 best movies made in 2007.

Charlize Theron co-stars as a police officer who aids Jones in his quest for his sone, and provides one of the few problems I have with the movie. We know who Charlize Theron is. We have seen her in dozens of movies where we are fully aware that she is one of the hottest women alive. And yet, in this movie as in others, she seems to be intentionally dialing down her looks. She is just not that hot here. And we have to think to ourselves - we know how gorgeous this woman is. Why wouldn't she want to look good? Sure she's a police officer, but would she, as a police officer, go out of her way to look as plain as possible? Well, maybe. Susan Sarandon shows up in what turns out to be a bit part as Jones' wife and the boy's mother. And a stellar cast make up the military unit with whom the boy was serving. In The Valley of Elah is a terrific achievement. It's slow, it's deliberate, and it's very political. It will challenge your assumptions - even if you are already against the war in Iraq, there are still other questions posed by the movie that will make you think. This may be the most accurate representation of soldiers in Iraq yet put on film in a feature film. It should really be seen. By everyone. Let's at the very least make it a success on DVD!

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