A son returns from war and goes missing. The father (Tommy Lee Jones) looks for his son and discovers him murdered. The father enlists the help of a sympathetic town detective (Charlize Theron). Together they capture the sons murderer and see the dark side of the American occupation of Iraq.
To his credit, Haggis plays his film as a character drama instead of a straight thriller. As retired Army officer Hank Deerfield, Jones succeeds in carrying the story forward; he is stoic, driven and fearless. The only character that can challenge him is his wife, strongly portrayed by Susan Sarandon. "You gave both our boys to the Army, couldnt you leave me have just one? she cries in anguish during this films most poignant moment. Theron also shines as a single mother and detective surrounded by bumbling colleagues. She matches Jones in intensity throughout.
The Valley of Elah was where David battled Goliath, and Haggiss eagerly awaited film draws parallels between that myth and Americas domination of Iraq. The distinction between the two is that America is both David and Goliath, and that the enemy is found by looking in the mirror.
Jones discovers low-res videos that his son captured on his digital camera in Iraq. Those crude images offer Jones, and America, glimpses into whats really happening in Iraq. U.S. tanks stop for nothing on the streets of Baghdad, not even children.
While the drama is strong and the characters rich and complex, the films brooding tone eventually becomes oppressive, while the ending is anti-climactic. In The Valley of Elah works in moments but falls short of succeeding as a whole. (Warner Independent)