Making the Grades
It's one thing when you son goes missing on the battlefield of war, but it's another when he suddenly vanishes from his domestic base. After Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) gets word of his boy Mike's (Jonathan Tucker) sudden disappearance after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, he decides to put his own military law experience into action and investigate the case himself.
Making the long drive to the army post, he is met with polite platitudes from the authorities suggesting perhaps Mike found a good woman to spend some time with. However, when his son's remains are suddenly discovered on a remote corner of the base, the military police are quick to put the blame on drugs and Mexican gangs. Unwilling to accept their hasty conclusion, Hank takes his concerns to the community's local police department where he meets Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron).
The cop initially tells the desperate dad the case is purely a military matter, until Hank does a little sleuthing of his own and manages to convince her the brutal killing actually took place on civilian property. With the city reluctant to claim another unsolved murder, and the army not wanting to have their image marred, Hank is stuck between two bureaucracies while trying to discover the real truth about his son's horrific death.
As the movie delves into the mystery, what unfolds goes well beyond the typical whodunit. Stellar performances reveal a glimpse into the experiences of young people that are sent into hostile combat situations. The script's goal is to help the viewer understand the mental price they (and the rest of society) pay for having served their country.
These are important concepts and messages, which obviously explore mature themes and discussions of war violence such as torture and dealing with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet the content parents may not expect from this US R-rated title is the inclusion of female nudity. In the process of tracking down the truth about his son's death, Hank makes a couple of visits to a strip club and interviews a topless waitress. The unnecessary details in these scenes act as a distraction from an otherwise solid script. Brief male rear nudity is also seen in a shower room and language includes frequent sexual expletives, as well as other profanities.
Paul Haggis, who also directed the 2006 Best Picture Oscar winner Crash, clearly has an ability to bring impact to his work, and this film follows in that regard. Still, as interesting and topical as this subject is, this film's content will likely prevent it from being seen by many potential audience members.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about In the Valley of Elah.
This movie details the consequences of serving one’s country in a combat situation. How do you feel about the possible long-term affects war can have upon some soldiers? What do you think society should do about this situation?
Anyone suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can find resources on the Internet to help steer them toward treatment and help. This page at the National Institute of Mental Health may be a good place to start: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml