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In the Valley of Elah

In the Valley of Elah
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Haggis
Produced by Paul Haggis
Bob Hayward
Screenplay by Paul Haggis
Story by Paul Haggis
Mark Boal
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Charlize Theron
Susan Sarandon
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Jo Francis
Distributed by Warner Bros. (USA)
Optimum Releasing (UK)
Release dates
  • September 14, 2007 (2007-09-14)
Running time
121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $23 million
Box office $29,524,289

In the Valley of Elah is a 2007 film written and directed by Paul Haggis, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon. The film’s title refers to the Biblical valley where the battle between David and Goliath is said to have taken place.

Paul Haggis's In The Valley of Elah is based on actual events, although the characters' names and locations have been changed. The screenplay was inspired by journalist Mark Boal's "Death and Dishonor," an article about the murder case published in Playboy magazine in 2004.

It portrays a military father's search for his son and, after finding his body, subsequent hunt for his son's killers. The film explores themes including the Iraq war, abuse of prisoners, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following active combat, and the apportion of blame for these denouements of war.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Factual basis 3.1
    • Screenplay and casting 3.2
    • Release 3.3
  • Critical reception 4
  • Awards and nominations 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The film tells the story of military police veteran Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones), his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) and their search for their son Mike (Jonathan Tucker). A soldier recently returned from Iraq, Mike has suddenly gone missing. Deerfield's investigation is aided by a police detective (Charlize Theron), who becomes personally involved in the case.

They find Mike's body, dismembered and burned. Military officials initially attempt to block the police investigation; they suggest Mike's death was due to drug-related violence. His platoon mates who last saw him lie to Deerfield and the police. Deerfield tells the police that although he suspects the soldiers are lying about something, he believes they could not have killed their comrade.

It turns out that Deerfield is wrong. The soldiers had killed and dismembered Mike after a seemingly insignificant quarrel. The soldier who confesses to Deerfield and the police seems emotionally detached from his words and actions, apparently to suggest he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from events of the war.



Factual basis

Although the film story is fictional, with the names and locations changed, it is based on the facts of the murder case of Richard T. Davis of Baker Company, 1-15 IN. He was an Iraq War veteran who was murdered soon after his return home in 2003. Richard Davis' father, Lanny Davis, was a former military police officer. He mounted his own investigation into the crime, as did the character played by Jones in the film. Davis commented, "It's a strong movie and a good movie. And it's going to make a lot of people think."[1]

In 2004, freelance journalist Mark Boal wrote an article about Richard Davis' murder, entitled "Death and Dishonor," published in Playboy. This inspired Haggis, who adapted the account for his screenplay.[2][3]

Davis' story was told in a 2006 episode, "Duty, Death and Dishonor," of the CBS News program 48 Hours Mystery.[4]

A non-fiction book about the murder case, by author Cilla McCain, titled Murder in Baker Company: How Four American Soldiers Killed One Of Their Own was published in 2009 by Chicago Review Press.[5]

The Richard Davis Foundation for Peace works on issues related to Davis' murder, such as improved screening of military recruits and help for veterans' returning from war. It is compiling a list of suicides and murders connected to the Iraq War for a memorial.

Screenplay and casting

Haggis initially approached Clint Eastwood to play the part of Hank Deerfield, which Haggis had written for him. Eastwood declined the opportunity because he was involved with other projects.[6]


The film premiered September 1, 2007, at the Venice Film Festival and was later shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. It opened in a somewhat limited release in the United States on September 14, 2007, eventually grossing $6.5 million domestically in theatrical rentals, making it a box office disappointment. It cost a reported $23 million to make. It opened in the United Kingdom on January 18, 2008.[7]

Critical reception

As of April 15, 2015, on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 73% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 158 reviews.[8] On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 64 out of 100, based on 25 reviews.[9]

Time magazine's Richard Corliss named the film one of the Top 10 Movies of 2007, ranking it at #8. In his review, Corliss praised the film as an improvement on Paul Haggis' Oscar-winning Crash, calling it "strong in the sleuthing, sobering in its political conclusions." Corliss singled out Tommy Lee Jones' performance, saying his "drained humanity anchors this excellent drama."[10] Time critic Richard Schickel also ranked the film #8 on his own Top 10 list, saying that the film "is a spare, taciturn, devastating account of what happens to the souls of soldiers forced to fight wars for which not even phony or temporary justifications are offered them."[11]

The film was criticized by some as having a heavy-handed approach. Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post wrote, "Haggis also appears to have no respect for his audience. At its crudest, the film settles for agitprop."[12] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said that "the characters in this somber film have the glum look of individuals delivering a Very Important Message to the world. And though this film in fact does have something crucial to convey, this is not the way to go about it."[13] Conversely, Stephanie Zacharek of Salon was critical of the film for not going far enough, saying that it "chickens out."[14]

Awards and nominations

Haggis won an award given by the SIGNIS at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, where the film was in contention for the Golden Lion. Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.


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  7. ^ In the Valley of Elah at the Internet Movie Database
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External links

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