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Film / In the Valley of Elah

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In the Valley of Elah is a 2007 drama written and directed by Paul Haggis and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon. The film follows Hank Deerfield (Jones), a former MP whose son goes AWOL shortly after his company returns from Iraq. Knowing how much stress his son was under, Hank decides to drive to the base and try to find his son himself. Not long afterwards, however, he discovers his son has been murdered, and finds himself working with a local police officer (Theron) to investigate.

This Film Contains examples of:

  • Based on a True Story: Four years prior to the film and its fiction, the body of a soldier recently assigned to Fort Benning from Iraq was found cut to pieces, burnt, and partially-devoured by animals. The perpetrators in the film imitate those convicted of the crime in real life.
  • Book Ends: Hank helping a groundskeeper to raise a flag. At the beginning, it's a flag in good working order that's been mistakenly displayed upside down, as in the International Symbol of Distress. At the end, a Tattered Flag is hung upside down on purpose.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The package Hank's son sent home.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In an absolute Tearjerker of an example, the nervous woman who Sanders brushes off early in the movie is later murdered by her husband.
  • Da Chief: Chief Buchwald
  • Determinator: Hank WILL find out what happened to his son, and lord help you if you get in his way.
  • The CSI Effect: Invoked; When Hank starts hanging around crime scenes and asking questions, Detective Sanders asks Hank if really knows anything about police work, or if he just watches a lot of crime shows. He replies that he's a retired Military Police.
  • Enhance Button: A variation. Hank gives his son's cell phone to a local tech wiz so he can help restore some of the corrupted video files.
  • Friend on the Force: Sanders becomes this to Hank.
  • Heroic BSoD: Joan when she's informed of her son's death. Hank, too, albiet in a more subdued fashion.
  • The Korean War: Where Hank served.
  • Meta Casting: Several of the actors who played soldiers in the film had served in Iraq themselves.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers made the film out to look like a military conspiracy thriller rather than a low-key murder mystery/drama.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Hank spouts some rather derogatory statements at Ortiz, but that could just be simply because he was mad at him rather than true bigotry.
  • Red Herring: alleged Mexican drug traffickers may have been trying to silence Hank's son. Hank even blames one of the guys in Mike's outfit.
  • The Reveal: Two fold: who killed Hank's son and what was on his son's phone.
  • Retired Badass: Hank plays a vital part in capturing a young, very strong suspect during a chase from police.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The story imitates a real life crime four years prior to the fiction of the film.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Most of the military characters, and arguably Hank, too.
  • Sherlock Scan: Hank is considerably more competent at crime scene investigation than most of the local police.
  • The Stoic: Once told of his son's death, Hank spares no time to mourn: he immediately involves himself with the investigation of his son's murder.
  • Tattered Flag: The final shot of the film is of the flag of the U.S., upside-down and ripped.
  • There's No Kill like Overkill: Hank's son is stabbed more than fifty times. That they can tell. And that's before his body was set on fire.
  • Title Drop: When Hank tells Sanders' son the story of David and Goliath.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Sanders and Buchwald.
  • War Is Hell: And it doesn't stop when you get home.
  • What Could Have Been: The role of Hank was written with Clint Eastwood in mind, but Eastwood didn't want to act in somebody else's movie and recommended Tommy Lee Jones for the part instead.