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Burned body parts in the valley

PUBLISHED: 15:33 23 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:29 01 July 2010

CAPITALISING on the exceptional form that Tommy Lee Jones is in at the moment, writer/director

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH

Cert 15

CAPITALISING on the exceptional form that Tommy Lee Jones is in at the moment, writer/director Paul Haggis' follow up to the oscar-winning Crash is an affecting portrait of a father who in searching for his son finds his long-held convictions shaken to the very core.

Tennessee trucker Hank Deerfield (Jones) learns that his son Mike, a soldier just back from Iraq, has disappeared from his base in New Mexico. In spite of the army dismissively saying he has probably gone off on a bender and assurances from his wife (Susan Sarandon) that everything's fine Hank, an ex military police sergeant, can't believe his son would duck his duty and sets off in search of answers. While asking questions at the base in Albuquerque some burned body parts turn up on military property but the police dismiss the incident as a drug deal gone bad.

Hank doesn't buy any of it and sets about persuading detective Emily (Charlize Theron) that his son (Jonathan Tucker, seen in flashbacks) was killed outside military jurisdiction and then dragged over the line and dismembered.

Emily agrees to help but the investigating officers seem uninterested and the two end up going it alone. The film raises some difficult questions about the emotional scars suffered by soldiers coming back from the war and is punctuated by jarring flash backs to scenes in Iraq.

Theron does a fine job as a woman struggling for respect in a male-dominated world and Saradon's turn as the worried wife is intelligently pitched. But the film's fulcrum is undoubtedly the top drawer performance from Jones as he vividly communicates Hank's every emotion as he is put through the wringer in his dogged search to get to the bottom of his son's disappearance.

* In the Valley of Elah opens on Friday.

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