starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, James Franco, Jonathan Tucker, Frances Fisher, Josh Brolin and Susan Sarandon
screenplay by Paul Haggis
directed by Paul Haggis
This is a slow moving murder drama, but not at all dull. The tension of the story carries it along well despite its slow pace. Tommy Lee Jones plays a retired military police officer in search of his son, just returned from Iraqin 2004 and gone AWOL from his base. It turns out that his son was murdered after his return to the U.S. and the case is slowly resolved through slow cooperation with a local civilian police homicide detective, played by Charlize Theron. Predictably in a story like this, there is tension and significant lack of cooperation between the civilian police and the military police. The military’s first inclination is to protect the Army’s reputation.
I didn’t recognize Charlize Theron until I saw her name in the credits, then I had to rewind and look at her again. Theron seems to change appearance so much with each film that I always have trouble recognizing her.
Susan Sarandon delivers a sterling performance as the long-suffering military wife and grieving mother.
Jones’character, Frank, is a reticent man. It goes well with his worn out appearance, I think. (Now there is a man in need either of a face lift or some Botox.) I love Jones’acting (although I do not love his name). Although long retired from the military, Frank’s personal habits remain very military, very reserved, conservative, socially correct, procedure-conforming. He continues to livehis life according to his soldier’s code. He shines and arranges his shoes just so. He makes his bed with tight creases like how he was taught in boot camp. He is extremely polite to women, even calling strippers “ma’am.” He doesn’t appear in public without a properly laundered white shirt. And, he is very competent. He’s a model of the strong, silent type, an old guy who is adept with machinery as well as computer technology, plus bureaucratic paperwork. He knows how things work, he knows how people work and how to read them, and he still remembers his military police skills well enough to properly conduct his own investigation. He notices things and is a quiet thinker. So his character is an interesting guy.
I was very interested to see the portrayal of U.S. soldiers, the missing man’s squad mates. They liveby their military code. Very courteous. Are all American soldiers so polite, calling civilians“sir” or “ma’am,” and saying polite things like “nice to meet you,” etc.? It’s not my image of Americans in general, or of American soldiers in particular. Interesting. I might be more favorably disposed towards Americans if they were, or if I thought they were more like this.
The movie’s title comes from Frank’s biggest scene, where he is telling a bedtime story to David, the son of the civilian detective. He tells the Biblical story of the Israelite shepherd, David, facing off and killing Goliath, the champion of the Philistines in the Valley of Elah. The story of David and Goliath is a Sunday School classic, and it is so familiar in Occidental cultures that even people who do not go to church have heard the story and think they know what it means. Incidentally, I have been to the Valley of Elah in Israel and trod the same ground as those ancient Biblical armies. But enough of that.