The latest comedy from the minds of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, “Young Adult” (4 / 5 stars), is playing in theatres now. This very entertaining, but dark, movie is propped by skillful direction and strong writing, but also by the strength of the lead performances. Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson are terrific here, and I thought it would be fun to look back at five must-see films starring these talented actors.
(So far, we’ve examined the coming-of-age story, “The Cider House Rules” (1999) starring Theron and an intense drama about an obsessive football fanatic, “Big Fan” (2009), starring Oswalt)
“In the Valley of Elah” (2007) 4 / 5 stars – In 2011, American troops might be leaving Iraq, but in 2004, the war was heating up in its second year.
In a country that lost a majority (if not all) of its infrastructure, United States forces tried to restore order in Iraq.
Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) – a U.S. Army soldier – spent 18 months in The Middle East, but made it back to Fort Rudd, New Mexico at the end of his tour.
After a year and a half of keeping himself in once piece overseas, Mike has suddenly gone missing back at the base, and after hearing the news, his dad – a retired military vet Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) – drove from Tennessee to New Mexico to help find his son.
Writer/director Paul Haggis presents us with a somber picture during a somber time for many in 2004.
The grey skies and bleak desert dominate the surroundings of Fort Rudd, and hardly a smile can be found on or off the base.
Military Police and local law enforcement fight to establish jurisdiction, and Det. Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) finds herself involved.
Often a target of sexist comments by her fellow detectives, the police department usually relegates Sanders to the most benign incidents and crimes.
Although discouraged, she owns plenty of resolve, and – despite the odds – stands and fights the bureaucratic machine.
It didn’t start out that way.
Hank feels no one is doing enough to solve this mystery, and after he gives thanks to Sanders for helping him with a favor, she says, “It’s the least I could do.”
Hank replies, “I’d say that’s accurate.”
Soon, Hank’s and Sanders’s relationship turns more positive, and they become trusted allies.
Despite their differences, they forge a friendship while seeking the truth.
Theron, with a grim demeanor, gives her character a beaten-down and weathered persona.
She’s utterly believable as a police detective, and as I wished Sanders would score a break in the case, I also hoped she’d catch some breaks in life.
A single mom, she struggles to maintain her place in the world, but worked too hard to let patronizing military procedures or snide comments by her male counterparts stop her from getting answers.
Jones brings an old school no-nonsense personality to this salty vet, and his performance rightly earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Hank is disciplined and well-mannered, but also impatient and harbors racist feelings.
A flawed man, but a human being who grieves while trudging through his desperate search.
Desperate might be the common theme throughout the picture.
The soldiers speak of it.
Private Ortiez (Victor Wolf) admits his issues while living on American soil.
“After two weeks here, all I want is to go back (to Iraq),” he tells Hank.
Unfortunately, the nightmares of war become part of the soldiers’ internal makeup.
Haggis doesn’t pull punches along this line of thinking.
His film directly implies the U.S.A. itself needs to wave an international distress signal for help.
Whether that’s fair or not, it’s an idea for the audience to ponder, but no matter how you feel, it’s difficult to argue that “In the Valley of Elah” delivers a powerful and sobering message.
“In the Valley of Elah” is rated R and available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Jeff Mitchell is on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic