Paul Haggis' mystery about a father investigating the death of his son, whose murder took place in the U.S. but had its roots in Iraq, burns with the same righteous fury as CRASH (2004). But it's mediated by Tommy Lee Jones' ferociously restrained performance as a grieving, socially and politically conservative man who stumbles across a military cover-up that shakes him to his core beliefs.
Hank Deerfield (Jones), a former military investigator with a post-retirement career hauling gravel in Tennessee, is shocked to get a call from Fort Rudd in New Mexico: His son, Mike (Jonathan Tucker), has gone AWOL. Deerfield didn't even know David was back from his most recent tour in Iraq, and refuses to believe his son has been stateside for a week and hasn't called him or his mother (Susan Sarandon). So Deerfield packs a bag and drives to Texas, where base investigator Lt. Kirklander (Jason Patric) treats him with a friendly deference that smacks of official brush-off; the local police refuse to get involved because the army has jurisdiction over missing soldiers. Once Mike's charred, dismembered corpse is discovered in a field, there's no deterring Deerfield, who is a better investigator than either Kirklander, whose efforts to control the investigation would be called obstruction in the civilian world, or fledgling police detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a single mother fighting her own war against old-boy sexism and small-town rumors.
The device that spurs Deerfield to take a moral inventory video files slowly recovered from Mike's damaged cell phone, each new snippet of degraded footage suggesting more vividly than the last that Iraq damaged Mike's psyche in awful ways is obvious, and Haggis' script is filled with equally unsubtle conceits. But the mystery is driven by more than the search for Mike's killer or killers: It's an investigation into shared fictions and willful blindness, steeped in disillusionment, frustration and suppressed anger. Though the portentous title is taken from the Old Testament Elah is where little David took on Goliath the film's concerns are painfully timely and forcefully articulated. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh