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In the Valley of Elah Review Critics


Dave White Profile

… the model of restraint and subtlety. Read full review

Other Critics provided by

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 4.0

    out of 100

    Generally favorable reviews
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 100

    out of 100

    Entertainment Weekly Owen Gleiberman

    It's the first Hollywood Iraq movie to remind me of a Vietnam film like Coming Home, and it does more than disturb. It scalds, moves, and heals.

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  • 100

    out of 100

    Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

    Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah is built on Tommy Lee Jones' persona, and that is why it works so well. The same material could have been banal or routine with an actor trying to be "earnest" and "sincere."

    Read Full Review

  • 50

    out of 100

    Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern

    The more I thought about it, the less I liked what it turned out to be -- a vague promise unkept.

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  • 88

    out of 100

    USA Today Claudia Puig

    A rare blend of emotional content and intelligent material that makes it simultaneously gut-wrenching and thought-provoking.

    Read Full Review

  • 90

    out of 100

    The Hollywood Reporter Michael Rechtshaffen

    A deeply reflective, quietly powerful work that is as timely as it is moving.

    Read Full Review

  • See all In the Valley of Elah reviews at

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

Iffy for 16+

Intense, mature murder mystery tackles Iraq war.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this contemplative, slow-moving mystery/drama isn't for kids. Its focus on military culture and wartime trauma yields images of chaotic, violent combat footage (much of this is shown in choppy, handheld cell phone video that can be hard to see/interpret). The movie's central murder is discussed frequently, and morgue scenes show the victim's mother's grief, as well as a brief glimpse of the body itself (there's another quick shot of an additional victim's body later on). Strippers are bare-breasted, and characters discuss a female detective who slept with her boss. Strong language includes many uses of "f--k," plus other profanity ("s--t," "p---y," "ass," etc.), and some disparaging terms used to describe Mexican Americans.

  • Families can talk about the impact of violent war imagery. Ask kids where they see disturbing images most -- on TV or the Internet -- and ask them how they deal with what they see. Families can also discuss what messages the movie is sending about war and the military. Is it the job of movies and TV shows to examine important social issues and current events? What other movies can you think of that have handled big topics in a similar way? How do the relationships within the movie affect its impact on you as a viewer? Is Hank a good father? Why or why not?

The good stuff
  • message true0

    Messages: Suspects lie during a murder investigation; references to a female detective having slept with her commander; film raises questions about military objectives and training, as well as soldiers' lack of discipline in Iraq and back home. Male detectives taunt the only woman in their unit, and some racism is displayed toward Mexican Americans.

What to watch for
  • violence false5

    Violence: Frequent violence and images showing the results of violence. Cell phone footage shows explosions, gunfire, and shots of bodies on the roadside, as well as U.S. soldiers in Iraq hitting a child with a vehicle (off screen, but loud noise and verbal reactions), and a soldier torturing a man (below screen) by twisting a finger in his wound. Murder victim's body is briefly visible; discussion of his multiple stab wounds. Background TV footage refers to and briefly shows war images, including Fallujah 2004, when contractors were killed and burned in front of TV cameras. Veterans discuss trauma in war zone (watching, suffering, committing violence). Brief shot of woman's bloody body. Hank slams a man with his truck door, leaving him bloody. Detectives wield guns.

  • sex false5

    Sex: Female dancers sport naked breasts in a strip bar scene. Stripper speaks to Hank while she's nude from the waist up (viewers see her breasts full-on). Discussion of soldiers seeking out prostitutes. Discussion of Emily having slept with her unit chief by fellow detectives who resent her promotion to their ranks.

  • language false5

    Language: Some salty soldier language, including repeated uses of "f--k" (over 20, one with "mother"), as well as "hell," "ass" and "a--hole," "s--t," "son of a bitch," "damn," and "p---y." Pejorative use of "chico" to refer to a Mexican-American solider.

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Coca-Cola.

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false3

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Background cigarette smoking; characters drink several times (liquor, beer) in a bar and in a truck (two men share a bottle of Jim Beam). Discussion of a soldier trying to "score meth."