Venice Film Festival 2007 diary part two
Dave Calhoun reports on 'In The Valley of Elah', the new film written and directed by the Oscars' favourite son, Paul Haggis
Paul Haggis is a busy man: his scripts for 'Crash', which he also directed, and 'Million Dollar Baby', directed by Clint Eastwood, picked up Best Picture Oscars two years in row in 2005 and 2006, and he was also one of the writers of the recent Bond movie, 'Casino Royale'. The Canadian's next effort as a writer-director is 'In The Valley of Elah', which screened a the Venice Film Festival this weekend, with Tommy Lee Jones in the lead role as no-nonsense patriot Hank Deerfield, an ex-serviceman in Tennessee who is trying to deal with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the brutal murder of his son, also a serviceman, soon after his return from duty in Iraq.
It's the second American film to screen at Venice in which the Iraq War is very much in the foreground of the drama, only this is a significantly more mature, accomplished work than 'Redacted', Brian de Palma's sloppy faux documentary. It's a film that may also surprise the many critics of 'Crash' - including this one - who found Haggis' earlier, award-winning film to be hysterical and unfocused. What's interesting about 'In the Valley of Elah' as a film about the US military in Iraq - an emerging mini-genre in itself - is that it takes place almost exclusively in Tennessee in the days after the vicious killing and burning of young solider, Mike Deerfield, at the side of an out-of-town road one Saturday night. There are a few, brief flashbacks to scenes of the war in Iraq delivered via mobile phone technology (this, too, is becoming a trope of these movies), but otherwise we are left to imagine the experiences of Deerfield and his fellow soldiers through their later, often reluctant testimony and, most successfully, from our own inferences from their erratic and violent behaviour after returning from the battlefield.
It's Jones' film: his performance will surely see him nominated for an Oscar. As Hank, Jones is unsatisfied with the poor explanations offered to him after his son's death by both the local and military police and so he becomes involved in the investigation himself. He finds an ally in a local detective played by Charlize Theron, who herself is suffering from the macho chauvinism of her colleagues. Jones' performance is committed and clever, leaving his character's wife, played by Susan Sarandon, in the shade and, a little disturbingly, very much on the sidelines of the movie.
If much of the film is given over to certain standards of the genre of thrillers about murder investigations – such as a focused, engaged andemotionally driven victim driving ahead a slap-dash police investigationthrough his own strong-will – Haggis compensates with an impression of what war is actually like for American men serving in Iraq. He delivers this with a sly narrative intelligence and doesn't pull any punches in portraying certain US soldiers as much as ignorant and abusive as psychologicallydamaged by war. There are some broad moments, there is some unexplained imagery (such as the title, which refers to the story of David and Goliath and which Jones recounts as a pointed bedtime story for Theron's young child), and there are some extraneous plot elements, but Haggis' film is largely a solid and effective addition to the spate of films about Iraq emerging from America.
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’