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In The Valley of Elah

Crash was the culmination of the multi-protagonist, worldÂ’s colliding aesthetic winning the Oscar for Best Picture in 2005. With myriad narratives coexisting, it was easy to become immersed in HaggisÂ’s dystopian utopia as he gave the viewer only enough to hold on to, and not with which to grapple or engage. With his new feature, we follow Vietnam veteran Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) as they investigate the brutal murder of Hank and JoanÂ’s (Susan Sarandon) son Mike. In short, Hank joins the investigation that soon implicates the U.S. army which complicates his allegiance to the army and his beloved country.

At times Haggis is successful in pulling the appropriate string but his calculated delivery undermines the attempted pathos and one is left feeling manipulated. Haggis is indiscreet about the obvious connections between inciting incidents, chance occurrences, secondary characters, etc. For example, the ‘chance meeting’ with a high school janitor in the first five minutes of the film by definition needs to reappear otherwise it is arbitrary and unjustified and this runs counter to Haggis’s carefully sculpted style.

Haggis is a Canadian expatriate who has mastered the Hollywood formula better than any native. His intricately plotted narratives mesmerize the unsuspecting viewer but when one is all too familiar with his oeuvre, the surprises vanish leaving only clichés and melodrama. After Crash, it became apparent that Haggis was all too fond of his own stylistic imperatives. This consequently disabled him from developing as a writer. With formula as the core, it would be advisable to continue writing for 007 and to avoid politically topical, emotional stories.

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