In the Valley of Elah - [Blu-ray]
(Paul Haggis, 2007)
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Nala Films & Warner Independent Pictures
DVD: Warner Home Entertainment
Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)
Disc Size: 23,317,711,352 bytes
Feature Size: 20,863,444,992 bytes
Video Bitrate: 17.13 Mbps
Case: Standard Blu-ray case
Release date: February 19th, 2008
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Video codec: VC-1 Video
Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1281 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1281 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio English 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
English (SDH), French, Spanish, none
• In the Valley of Elah: After Iraq
• In the Valley of Elah: Coming Home
In the Valley of Elah ~ Comment
The title refers to the biblical story of David and Goliath that Tommy Lee Jones' character tells a child to help him deal with his nocturnal monsters. The boy needs to sleep with his bedroom door open and the hall light on; but as for Jones, one wonders how he can sleep at all after learning of his own son's brutal murder. There are echoes of A Soldier's Story and Missing as misdirection and cover-ups come into play.
Jones is awesome and Oscar-worthy as a well-regulated, determined man, dealing with the loss of not just one, but two sons to the Army, a fact that their mother (Susan Sarandon) does not let him forget. Charlize Theron once again downplays her natural beauty in a role that I found quite believable; even through a near-clichéd morass of misogynist antagonisms threatens to throw the drama off-balance.
Paul Haggis, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning Crash, did likewise for this more restrained story that naturally questions the price of sending our heroes to deal with the moral complexities presented by Iraq. The footage we see of Iraq is presented in an unusual fashion, viz., as cell phone video media, and semi-corrupted at that.
The idea of corruption is, of course, central to everything that goes on here: from the family, to the army and its institutions, the local police, to racism from unexpected quarters, to friends and even the best intentions. Corruption is not always blatant, and In the Valley of Elah it is often subtle, so much so that the ending might strike many as anticlimactic.
In the Valley of Elah ~ The Score Card
The Movie : 8
Hank Deerfield learns that, shortly after returning from an extended tour in Iraq, his son has gone AWOL from his base in New Mexico. Deerfield, a long-retired Army Military Police, drives out from his home in Tennessee to investigate and soon learns that his son has been the victim of a inexplicably brutal murder. He gets courteous, respectful help from the base and his son's close friends there, but the local police are more reluctant to get involved. Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) has her own problems with her colleagues and superiors, being the only female detective in the precinct. Deerfield manages to convince Sanders to buck her own superiors and the Army, who would prefer to take care of this in their own way. Working more independently than we usually find in plots of this sort, Sanders and Deerfield attempt to unravel the mystery, which at times feels as much like a horror story as a murder investigation, which, as we come to find out, it is.
Image : 8.5 (8~9/9)
NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
first number indicates a relative level of excellence
compared to other Blu-ray discs. The second number places
the image score along a ten point scale that includes DVDs
as well as Blu-ray discs.
The color is muted and bloodless, in keeping with the
ambiguous, numbing mood of the film. For the most part, the
image is sharp - it would be pointless to cast Tommy Lee and
then opt for a soft image. When not, it is the result of the
vagaries of on-location shooting or deliberate choices by
the DP. There is a slight sense of fine dust over the image
for which I dropped it a half point. And I wasn't altogether
convinced by the decision to present the cell phone video in
widescreen, feeling I would have preferred it in true aspect
ratio, framed by a computer screen or some such to maintain
the 2.40:1 ratio. But this is not a transfer issue in either
case. Blacks are solid and noiseless. Transfer artifacts are
minimal to non-existent.
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
Audio & Music : 8/9
Ever since Never Cry Wolf, I have been a fan of Mark Isham's music, and he doesn't disappoint here either: poignant, eerie, sparing – just the right touch for this murder/horror story. Despite the allusions to Iraq, there are very few big noises, so don't expect battle scenes or volleys of gunfire or RPG's.
Operations : 8
Typical of Warner, we get right to the movie before we've had time to return to our seats. The menu, though in no way taking advantage of the medium, is straightforward. As is typical with Warner Blu-rays, the slightly expanding thumbnails are not titled. Lots of chapters.
Extras : 7
There are two featurettes, totaling about 43 minutes. The first is a 27-minute making-of documentary guided in part by Haggis who shows us how he moves in and out of fact and fiction. Since the story is based on a real incident, one thing of interest is that a number of the important supporting military characters have served in Iraq. The other piece is a look at the plight of returning veterans, an important appendix to the story. Both are presented in very high quality SD anamorphic format. A Travel Advisory: DO NOT watch these extra features before you watch the movie.
Superb performances by the three stars, especially the reliable and economical Tommy Lee and a subtly told story, especially as compared to Crash help to give this film high marks, made all the higher with a solid Blu-ray rendition, if you'll pardon the expression.
February 17th, 2008