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Parents' Guide to

In the Valley of Elah

By Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Intense, mature murder mystery tackles Iraq war.

Movie R 2007 125 minutes
In the Valley of Elah Poster Image

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Like his award-winning Crash, Paul Haggis' war-centric drama is heavy-handed, raising important questions about military culture and masculinity, but finding only superficial answers. While the film is instructive in underscoring different perceptions of the military (where Hank trusts in the loyalty of masculine, combat-forged company, Emily sees rupture, competition, and cruelty), Elah does less well in considering the racism beneath the unit's surface.

Nonetheless, one scene in which Hank confronts a Mexican-American private named Ortiez (Victor Wolf) proves particularly affecting. The private remembers being in Iraq and wanting only to come home. Now, he says softly, he only wants to go back. While many movie-style military men have voiced this desire, here it seems tragic. The horrors of the war have changed his sense of time and self; he no longer feels "at home" anywhere, much as Hank has also never been "home" with Joan or his son. The close shot of Ortiez's expression, sad and self-knowing, is more effective than the rest of the film's point-pounding.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: September 14, 2007
  • On DVD or streaming: February 19, 2008
  • Cast: Charlize Theron , Susan Sarandon , Tommy Lee Jones
  • Director: Paul Haggis
  • Inclusion Information: Female actors, Bisexual actors
  • Studio: Warner Independent
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 125 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality/nudity.
  • Last updated: March 31, 2022

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