Written and directed by Paul Haggis, In the Valley of Elah follows Tommy Lee Jones’ Hank Deerfield as he embarks on a quest to uncover the truth about his son’s disappearance – with the character’s efforts eventually assisted by a grizzled local cop named Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). Filmmaker Haggis does an effective job of cultivating an impressively engrossing atmosphere right from the outset, as In the Valley of Elah boasts (and benefits substantially from) a completely captivating performance from Jones and his various costars – with the actor’s stirring work matched by a supporting cast that includes James Franco, Josh Brolin, and Susan Sarandon. It’s a little disappointing to note, then, that the picture eventually progresses into a padded-out, erratic midsection, as Haggis delivers a second act that contains a few too many needless diversions and digressions (eg Emily continually experiences harassment at the hands of her fellow officers) – with the movie, ultimately, at its best when focused on Hank’s compelling exploits. The degree to which In the Valley of Elah finally fizzles out is rather disappointing, to put it mildly, and it’s impossible, in the end, not to wish that Haggis had tightened up the narrative and shortened the running time.
**1/2 out of ****