The Morning After: Jul. 27, 2015

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

In the Valley of Elah

He talks about how things used to be. He looks at the present as if it were a reflection of the past he once knew. For Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones), his own military experience should be precisely the one his son has gone through, but when he goes missing, Hank uproots himself to go in search of answers in a mystery that deepens every step he takes.

Jones delivers one of his most reserved and introspective performances to date as the principled ex-MP determined to uncover his son’s murderer while a belligerent military and a put-upon police detective (Charlize Theron) go head-to-head in a fight to find justice. This isn’t your typical Jones who generally plays his roles with explosive forwardness. While he dials it back quite a bit from his typical exploration of characters, it gives us a chance to observe a masterful actor exploring his craft rather than playing to a stereotype he’s carefully constructed over the last two decades.

Theron is strong, as are Jason Patric as the resistant military investigator and Susan Sarandon as the bereaved mother. A particularly poignant scene involves Sarandon’s arrival at the facility where her son has been stored even though she’s been warned off by her husband. The quietly powerful scene in a long, sterile hallway adds one of the film’s three moments of pure emotional catharsis. Not coming off particularly well are James Franco as a superfluous military officer and Josh Brolin as Theron’s police chief and unconcerned participant.

For Paul Haggis, In the Valley of Elah marks a departure from his obvious, straight-forward writing style. Married by an excessive attempt at find “gotcha” moments and gloss over race relations in Los Angeles, Haggis turned Crash into a Best Picture winner, but not before alarming those who watched it over its simplified tones and themes. Here, he’s more clarified in purpose, which makes for a more enjoyable experience. He still relies too heavily on an excess of characters and plays certain scenes with obvious melodrama, but overall this is a more improved cinematic structure.

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