In the Valley of Elah


In the Valley of Elah

Screenplay by Paul Haggis

Based on a story by Mark Boal

Directed by Paul Haggis



Tommy Lee Jones

Charlize Theron

Susan Sarandon

Wes Chatham

Jason Patric

James Franco

Barry Corbin

Josh Brolin


Theatrical:  Blackfriars Bridge & NALA Films

Video: Warner Home Video


Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Codec: VC-1

Disc Size: 23.32 GB

Feature Size: 20.86 GB

Bit Rate: 17.14 Mbps

Runtime: 121 minutes

Chapters: 27

Region: All


English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0


English SDH, Spanish & French


• After Iraq

• Coming Home


Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x1

Release Date: February 19, 2008


The title refers to the biblical story of David and Goliath that Tommy Lee Jones' character tells a child to help him deal with his nocturnal monsters.  The boy needs to sleep with his bedroom door open and the hall light on; but as for Jones, one wonders how he can sleep at all after learning of his own son's brutal murder.  There are echoes of A Soldier's Story and Missing as misdirection and cover-ups come into play.


Jones is awesome and Oscar-worthy as a well-regulated, determined man, dealing with the loss of not just one, but two sons to the Army, a fact that their mother (Susan Sarandon) does not let him forget.  Charlize Theron once again downplays her natural beauty in a role that I found quite believable; even through a near-clichéd morass of misogynist antagonisms threatens to throw the drama off-balance.



Paul Haggis, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning Crash, did likewise for this more restrained story that naturally questions the price of sending our heroes to deal with the moral complexities presented by Iraq.  The footage we see of Iraq is presented in an unusual fashion, viz., as cell phone video media, and semi-corrupted at that. 


The idea of corruption is, of course, central to everything that goes on here: from the family, to the army and its institutions, the local police, to racism from unexpected quarters, to friends and even the best intentions.  Corruption is not always blatant, and In the Valley of Elah it is often subtle, so much so that the ending might strike many as anticlimactic.


The Movie: 8

Hank Deerfield learns that, shortly after returning from an extended tour in Iraq, his son has gone AWOL from his base in New Mexico.  Deerfield, a long-retired Army Military Police, drives out from his home in Tennessee to investigate and soon learns that his son has been the victim of a inexplicably brutal murder.  He gets courteous, respectful help from the base and his son's close friends there, but the local police are more reluctant to get involved. Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) has her own problems with her colleagues and superiors, being the only female detective in the precinct. Deerfield manages to convince Sanders to buck her own superiors and the Army, who would prefer to take care of this in their own way.  Working more independently than we usually find in plots of this sort, Sanders and Deerfield attempt to unravel the mystery, which at times feels as much like a horror story as a murder investigation, which, as we come to find out, it is.


Image: 8/9

The color is muted and bloodless, in keeping with the ambiguous, numbing mood of the film.  For the most part, the image is sharp - it would be pointless to cast Tommy Lee and then opt for a soft image.  When not, it is the result of the vagaries of on-location shooting or deliberate choices by the DP.  There is a slight sense of fine dust over the image for which I dropped it a half point.  And I wasn't altogether convinced by the decision to present the cell phone video in widescreen, feeling I would have preferred it in true aspect ratio, framed by a computer screen or some such to maintain the 2.40:1 ratio.  But this is not a transfer issue in either case.  Blacks are solid and noiseless.  Transfer artifacts are minimal to non-existent.  Not at all a poor showing considering a bit rate of a mere 17.14 Mbps.


Audio & Music: 7/9

Ever since Never Cry Wolf, I have been a fan of Mark Isham's music, and he doesn't disappoint here either: poignant, eerie, sparing – just the right touch for this murder/horror story.  Despite the allusions to Iraq, there are very few big noises or reasons for the surrounds to come alive, so don't expect battle scenes or volleys of gunfire or RPG's.  Instead the effects and music mix is designed to work subtly, hypnotically, emotionally.


Operations : 8

Typical of Warner, we get right to the movie before we've had time to return to our seats. The menu, though in no way taking advantage of the medium, is straightforward. As is typical with Warner Blu-rays, the slightly expanding thumbnails are not titled.   Lots of chapters.



Extras : 6

There are two bonus features, totaling about 43 minutes.  The first (“After Iraq”) is a 27-minute making-of documentary guided in part by Haggis who shows us how he moves in and out of fact and fiction.  Since the story is based on a real incident, one thing of interest is that a number of the important supporting military characters have served in Iraq.  The other piece is a look at the plight of returning veterans, an important appendix to the story.  Both are presented in very high quality SD anamorphic format. Travel Advisory: DO NOT watch these extra features before you watch the movie.


Recommendation: 8

Superb performances by the two stars (Susan Sarandon is very fine, if underused, in a small role), especially the reliable and economical Tommy Lee in a subtly told story, especially as compared to Paul Haggis’ Crash help to give this Blu-ray high marks, made all the higher in a solid high-definition rendition, if you'll pardon the expression.

Leonard Norwitz                                                                                      Coming Soon on Blu-ray

© LensViews                                                                                  

February 17, 2008                                                                                                   Return to Top


Score CardScore_Card.htmlScore_Card.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0
About MeAbout_Me.htmlAbout_Me.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0