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In the Valley of Elah is a 2007 Academy Award-nominated film written and directed by Paul Haggis, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon. The film’s title refers to the Biblical valley where the battle between David and Goliath is said to have taken place.


Paul Haggis's In The Valley of Elah is based on actual events, and portrays a military father's search for his son and subsequent hunt for his son's killers. The film explores themes including the Iraq war, abuse of prisoners, and post-traumatic stress disorder following active combat.

The film tells the story of war veteran Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones), his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) and the search for their son Mike (Jonathan Tucker), a soldier who recently returned from Iraqmarker but has mysteriously gone missing. Hank's investigation is aided by a police detective (Charlize Theron) who becomes personally involved in the case.

Mike's body is found, cut to pieces and burnt. Military officials initially attempt to block the police investigation and then suggest Mike's death was due to drug-related violence. His platoon mates who last saw him lie to Hank and the police. Hank, a former military police officer, tells the police that although he suspects the soldiers are lying about something, they could not have killed their comrade. Ultimately, it turns out that Hank is wrong; the soldiers had killed and dismembered Mike after a seemingly insignificant quarrel. The soldier who confesses to Hank and the police seems emotionally detached from his words and actions, likely due to post-traumatic stress disorder from the war.


Actor Role Notes Actor Role Notes
Tommy Lee Jones Hank Deerfield Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actor Jonathan Tucker SPC Mike "Doc" Deerfield
Charlize Theron Det. Emily Sanders Wayne Duvall Det. Nugent
Jason Patric 1LT Kirklander Victor Wolf PV2 Robert Ortiez
Susan Sarandon Joan Deerfield Brent Briscoe Det. Hodge
James Franco SFC Dan Carnelli Greg Serano Det. Manny Nuñez
Barry Corbin Arnold Bickman Brent Sexton Lt. Burke
Josh Brolin Chief Buchwald Devin Brochu David Sanders
Frances Fisher Eve Zoe Kazan Angie
Wes Chatham CPL Steve Penning Glenn Taranto Det. Wayne
Jake McLaughlin SPC Gordon Bonner Sean Huze Captain Jim Osher
Mehcad Brooks SPC Ennis Long Pierre Barrera TD's bartender


Factual basis

Although the story has been fictionalized and the names and location have been changed, the plot hews very closely to the story of Richard T. Davis, an Iraq War veteran murdered upon his return home in 2003. Richard Davis's father Lanny Davis, a former military police officer who mounted his own investigation into the crime like the Jones character, commented, "It's a strong movie and a good movie. And it's going to make a lot of people think."

A non-fiction book about the actual murder case, by author Cilla McCain, titled Murder in Baker Company: How Four American Soldiers Killed One Of Their Own is slated for publication in Fall 2009 by Chicago Review Press.

A 2004 report by Mark Boal in Playboy on Richard Davis' murder, entitled "Death and Dishonor", inspired Haggis. Davis's story was also told in an episode of the CBS News program 48 Hours Mystery.

The Richard Davis Foundation for Peace works on issues related to Davis's murder such as improved screening of military recruits. It is compiling a list of suicides and murders connected to the Iraq War for a memorial.

Screenplay and casting

Haggis initially approached Clint Eastwood to play the part of Hank Deerfield, which Haggis had written for him. Eastwood turned it down because he didn't want to act in any more films.


The film premiered September 1, 2007 at the Venice Film Festival and was later shown at the Toronto International Film Festivalmarker. It opened in a somewhat limited release in the United Statesmarker on September 14, 2007, eventually grossing $6.5 million domestically in theatrical rentals. It opened in the United Kingdommarker on January 18, 2008.

Critical reception

As of February 20, 2008 on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 71% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 139 reviews. On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 64 out of 100, based on 25 reviews.

Time magazine's Richard Corliss named the film one of the Top 10 Movies of 2007, ranking it at #8. In his review, Corliss praised the film as an improvement on Paul Haggis's Oscar-winning Crash, calling it "strong in the sleuthing, sobering in its political conclusions." Corliss singled out Tommy Lee Jones's performance, saying his "drained humanity anchors this excellent drama." Time critic Richard Schickel also ranked the film #8 on his own Top 10 list, saying that the film "is a spare, taciturn, devastating account of what happens to the souls of soldiers forced to fight wars for which not even phony or temporary justifications are offered them."

The film was criticized by some as having a heavy-handed approach. Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post wrote, "Haggis also appears to have no respect for his audience. At its crudest, the film settles for agitprop." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said that "the characters in this somber film have the glum look of individuals delivering a Very Important Message to the world. And though this film in fact does have something crucial to convey, this is not the way to go about it." Conversely, Stephanie Zacharek of Salon was critical of the film for not going far enough, saying that it "chickens out."

Awards and nominations

Haggis won an award given by the SIGNIS at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, where the film was in contention for the Golden Lion. Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.


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