I went into In the Valley of Elah with trepidation. I find writer/director Paul Haggis to be a heavy handed, manipulative and clichťd film maker. I was relieved to find that Elah is an improvement on his previous work. The characters in this film act like real people for most of the picture and they donít articulate their motivations to the camera, at least not too often. Maybe Haggis is learning something about film making.
Too bad he still has a lot to learn. The biggest problem with Elah is how boring it is. What he has failed to do is make a compelling picture. Maybe in jettisoning some of his manipulative nature, Haggis gave up his sole tool for luring his audience into his story. I donít know how many times I looked at my watch. The filmís plot plods along at a snails pace and there are far too many unnecessary scenes. There are moments that are there for no reason.
Okay, there may be a few heavy handed moments. Haggis hasnít given it up entirely. The whole bit about tying it in with the David and Goliath story is quite over the top but maybe he just had to name his film In the Valley of Elah and therefore needed to work it in. It doesnít really connect with everything else going on and it takes you out of the film.
Still, the performances here are good. Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon break your heart a few times. Charlize Theron has demonstrated that she has left her bimbo actress days behind her to become a real thespian. Each of them does well and itís nice to see that their writer doesnít have them walk into a room to immediately announce all their innermost feelings.
I also responded to the message of the movie. War makes us crazy. Okay, itís not all that original but at least it rings true. He lays it on a little thick near the end. His upside down flag symbolism seems a bit forced. Still, itís a nice message.
Haggis is improving and I look forward to what he will do next. I just hope he finds a more interesting story next time.