Box art for In the Valley of Elah

In the Valley of Elah

drama, thrillers

"In the Valley of Elah" tells the story of a war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones), his wife (Susan Sarandon) and the search for their son, a soldier who recently returned from Iraq but has mysteriously gone missing, and the police detective...

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

PAUSE for kids age 16
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
3 out of 5
5 out of 5
Positive messages
0 out of 5
5 out of 5
5 out of 5

Intense, mature murder mystery tackles Iraq war.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that this contemplative, slow-moving mystery/drama isn't for kids. Its focus on military culture and wartime trauma yields images of chaotic, violent combat footage (much of this is shown in choppy, handheld cell phone video that can be hard to see/interpret). The movie's central murder is discussed frequently, and morgue scenes show the victim's mother's grief, as well as a brief glimpse of the body itself (there's another quick shot of an additional victim's body later on). Strippers are bare-breasted, and characters discuss a female detective who slept with her boss. Strong language includes many uses of "f--k," plus other profanity ("s--t," "p---y," "ass," etc.), and some disparaging terms used to describe Mexican Americans.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about the impact of violent war imagery. Ask kids where they see disturbing images most -- on TV or the Internet -- and ask them how they deal with what they see. Families can also discuss what messages the movie is sending about war and the military. Is it the job of movies and TV shows to examine important social issues and current events? What other movies can you think of that have handled big topics in a similar way? How do the relationships within the movie affect its impact on you as a viewer? Is Hank a good father? Why or why not?

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

Top Critic Reviews

Fresh: In the Valley of Elah rises and falls on the strength of Tommy Lee Jones' performance, which is to say that it rises to great heights, indeed.

- Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic, Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rotten: Elah uses a slightly plodding police procedural format as an opening to a discussion about the effect the war is having on returning soldiers. It's a lot to ask of one movie.

- Bruce Newman, San Jose Mercury News, Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rotten: Haggis'] self-serious tone becomes wearisome, and he fails to explore how the military failed its men while clumsily laying a guilt trip at its feet.

- Bruce Westbrook, Houston Chronicle, Friday, September 21, 2007

Audience Reviews

3 stars

This film is loosely based off a true story... I say loosely because after watching this movie I was compelled to do some research about the true events. What I found was that the movie misrepresented the true story drastically. Leave it to Hollywood to take a sad story and claim to pay "homage" to this misfortuned soldier and his family by telling the world what really happened... yet the end result is a film that chronicles nothing about the true events. Damn you Hollywood.... Had I not found out about this, I would've given this movie much higher accolades. Hell, they didn't even use the victim's real name in the movie! The way in which he was killed, and even the motives were all completely different. The only resemblance the film holds to the real event is that a soldier who returned from Iraq was killed by his fellow soldiers. I won't go into any more details because I dont' want to spoil the movie for anyone. If you can go into this movie knowing it's not based on a true story, you might be able to enjoy it more. Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron were excellent together in this film. Susan Sarandon was amazing as well. This film is a thriller and will leave you guessing to the end... but for me at least, all the good things I liked about this movie were completely deflated when I found out the truth about the events. Still a solid film, and worth a watch, especially if you enjoyed other war-based dramas like Stop Loss or Home of the Brave.

- DerekA101, Monday, September 29, 2008

3 stars

Earnest, serious portrayal of the effects of war which offers meaty roles for Jones and Theron but the basic premise feels well trodden.

- gor41, Friday, July 18, 2008

4 stars

A politically charged drama with an extraordinary performance by Tommy Lee Jones. The movie is very slow but I never found it dull or anything. Just Jones' performance makes it worth a look. You can feel his suffering and the guilt of losing his son. The story is based on a true story. It gets you interested from the very first minutes. It is a moving story and the political aspect (US war in Iraq, Afganistan...) is shown thru the eyes of young kids who get affected by war in harmful ways.

- TheMachinist, Thursday, July 3, 2008