Roughly based on an actual incident, In the Valley of Elah stars Tommy Lee
Jones as a retired army MP, specifically a criminal investigator, who receives
a call that his son has returned from Iraq, but is now missing from base.
Knowing his son is not the type to go AWOL, he drives to the base, which was
the boy's last duty assignment, to investigate for himself. Fairly soon, his
son's body is found. He had been stabbed numerous times, cut into small
pieces, burned, and then left for the wild animals. Because his body parts
were on army land, the military is given temporary jurisdiction until it is
determined that the actual murder took place on city land, which makes it a
local police problem. Tommy Lee finds a sympathetic ear with a young female
detective (Charlize Theron) who allows him far greater access to the
investigation than the army would have. The more Tommy Lee investigates, the
more he learns that war had changed his son.
Many who commented at IMDb are wildly enthusiastic about the film, and feel
that it was very effective in delivering a unique message about the
dehumanizing effects of the Iraq war on our boys. I tend to agree. At over 120
minutes, the film makes its points slowly and deliberately, but, at least for
me, very effectively. Before the film is over, we get a real picture of what
the Iraq war is doing to the young men and women who are fighting it. It is
not a pretty picture, which, of course, is no surprise to anyone who has ever
been in a war.
Elah only had a limited theatrical release, but the film and Tommy Lee both
received many award nominations. Critical reception was fairly positive in
general, but some panned it because they found the "war is ugly" message
obvious and the ending stupid. IMDb readers say 7.5.
Several strippers show breasts, as does Frances Fisher as a topless waitress.