The Valley of Elah refers to the place described in the Bible where the Israelites were encamped when David fought Goliath the giant and killed him with a slingshot. In the movie, Charlize Theron’s little boy who is afraid of dark is named after David and Tommy Lee Jones tells him this story so the kid can overcome fear.

This is one of the best movies I have seen in many years. Both Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron are amongst my favorite actors and both have given splendid performances. Charlize does great in the role of  the single mother and police detective assigned to  the case that forms the basis of this movie.

The movie begins with Tommy Lee Jones heading out to Fort  Bragg, North Carolina, to find out about his son who is declared AWOL from the Army after his return from Iraq. He notices the American flag flying upside down and stops to help set the flag right after he finds out  (from what I presume is a school janitor) the El Salvadoran has hoisted it wrong way up. He explains why the flag should be flown right. Interestingly, the movie ends with Jones himself hoisting the flag wrong way up and insisting it stay that way. In between the two events, lies the story of a father seeking justice for his son’s death  and learning the harsh truth that he has to accept.

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Pic: screen grab from the movie. I didn’t know an upside down flag signified a SOS or distress signal.  

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Pic: the Indian flag is frequently flown upside down as most people don’t know if the saffron or green is supposed to be up. Trust me, no one will come to help if you fly the Indian flag upside down! The right way is saffron up, green down.

The movie is inspired by a true life story, the murder of soldier Richard T. Davis in 2003 and is a damning indictment of the Iraq war.

In this case, the filmmaker shows us how that war distorts, mutates, deranges, the people who fight in it, and what happens when the derangement comes home. In this story, what happens when the derangement comes home in the form of a young soldier who is psychologically affected by what he has experienced in Iraq.

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Tommy Lee Jones & Susan Sarandon in the movie

Susan Sarandon has a quiet but impactful role of a mother who has to accept the loss of both her sons. Her sadness and grief is visible and moving, especially as she expresses it in so few words.

I lived in Colorado Springs which is a large Army base and I have seen in my own little way as to how the war affects some young soldiers who return from their tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. The movie brings home the emotional casualties of war,  of what happens to soldiers who are fighting in questionable wars like Iraq.

I have always liked Tommy Lee Jones and this is one of his best movies for which he won an Oscar nomination. In fact, the movie has an Oscar-studded cast: apart from winners like Jones, Sarandon and Theron, there are also nominees like James Franco and Josh Brolin.

This is not for family viewing if you have kids.

Recommended: Definitely Yes!

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

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