In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Director Paul Haggis (Crash) starts with an interesting premise that might have moved his film beyond the many treatments of how war dehumanizes people—war considered from the vantage point of a soldier's parents. Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is a super-patriot and retired Vietnam veteran who learns that his son Mike has gone AWOL on his home leave from Iraq. He's already lost one son to a military accident, so he drives from his home in Tennessee to Fort Rudd in New Mexico to find Mike before it's too late. But it is too late, and when Mike's charred and dismembered body is found in a field near his military base Hank teams up with detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) to solve the crime. But at this point the film reverts to a generic detective mystery and loses its way. There are jurisdictional squabbles, predictable incompetence corrected by Hank (a former military police), Army coverup, and sexist harassment against Theron. Worse, the last fifteen seconds of the film are a political cheap shot and tacked-on moral. Haggis makes excellent use of video recovered from Mike's cell phone to communicate the garbled and grotesque reality of the Iraq war which, unhappily, was also Mike's reality.