Dave's Rating:

3.5

… the model of restraint and subtlety.

Who's in It: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon

The Basics: The soldier son of T.L.J. and Sarandon returns from Iraq and goes AWOL. This makes T.L.J. jump in his truck and drive off to the base to find the boy. What he finds instead is a dead body in a field and Det. Theron (who's gone all Plain Jane again, almost distractingly so, for this serious project; they should have subtitled it P.S. Charlize Theron Still Hates Being Pretty). Together, they piece together what happened to the dead son.

What's the Deal? It kills me to say this, because I've had a great time this past couple of years bashing Paul Haggis and Crash just about every chance I get to do so in print, but this one isn't bad at all. There's nothing original about its emotional content or its police-procedural plot — and OK, yes, he still doesn't miss a chance to rub your nose in his point — but he chooses where to do that rubbing a lot more judiciously here. So compared to that PSA about racism, it's the model of restraint and subtlety.

Who's Good: Well, Sarandon, of course, because she's almost always great no matter what she's doing. Even when she's in crap — she was good in Stepmom, if you can believe that. And Theron's fine. But — and this kills me to say, too, because I've been in the presence of this man, and he was something less than nice — Jones is really moving as the angry, grieving dad on the justice war path. So there. All kinds of artistic words eaten.

What the Title Means: The valley of Elah is in the Old Testament. It's where David fought Goliath. And because this is a frustrated, furious anti-war film, it would appear that the American people are David and the American government is Goliath.

Who'll Hate This: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Dennis Miller, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and their fans.

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