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Fast-Paised review: 'In the Valley of Elah'

Shortly after coming home from war, Iraq soldier Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) disappears from a Tennessee army base and is soon found dead in a field nearby. His military vet father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones) leads his own search for answers when neither the military nor the cops can get it together. Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon also star.

Big question: Can writer Paul Haggis' directorial follow-up to "Crash," based on actual events, again stir people's heartstrings and take home a boatload of awards?

Catch it: Jones may have some nominations coming his way, as every new detail and flinch of his eyes reveals a man who needs to know the truth even if every question hurts. This is a different and devastating look at the residual effects of war, presenting the small pieces of purity its survivors and victims lose, whether or not the battle is won.

Skip it: If you're a firm believer in the story of "David and Goliath." The movie's title references the place where the underdog took down the giant--and then references the metaphor over and over again until we want to tell Haggis, "OK, man, we get it."

Bottom line: A tale of imperfect soldiers in an imperfect war, "Elah" turns nearly every plot point into a major issue but fortunately doesn't organize its characters by personality types like "Crash." Instead, Haggis confidently massages a top-notch ensemble into a study of investigations botched by procedural power struggles and fighters who die at home because of the horror they experienced overseas.

Bonus: Hank's tip about how to keep warm during wartime: man or woman, put on pantyhose. It's also great for those chilly winter months or anytime you just want to look stylish.

Matt Pais is the metromix movies producer.


'In the Valley of Elah'

Written and directed by Paul Haggis; photographed by Roger Deakins; edited by Jo Francis; music by Mark Isham; production design by Laurence Bennett; produced by Patrick Wachsberger, Steven Samuels, Darlene Caamano Loquet, Haggis and Laurence Becsey. A Warner Independent Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:00. MPAA rating: R (for violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality/nudity).

Hank Deerfield - Tommy Lee Jones

Emily Sanders - Charlize Theron

Joan Deerfield - Susan Sarandon

Chief Buchwald - Josh Brolin

Sgt. Carnelli - James Franco

Evie - Frances Fisher

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