Generally favorable reviews - based on 37 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 27 out of 37
  2. Negative: 0 out of 37
  1. 100
    Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah is built on Tommy Lee Jones' persona, and that is why it works so well. The same material could have been banal or routine with an actor trying to be "earnest" and "sincere."
  2. Reviewed by: Tamara Straus
    For the most part it is an effective, disturbing and - a rarity for Haggis - subtle exploration of the stateside war story.
  3. It's the first Hollywood Iraq movie to remind me of a Vietnam film like Coming Home, and it does more than disturb. It scalds, moves, and heals.
  4. A deeply reflective, quietly powerful work that is as timely as it is moving.
  5. Tommy Lee Jones is marvelous in the film. He has one scene in particular, a simple two-person encounter, that's as good as it gets in the realm of American screen acting.
  6. 88
    Theron is very good as a woman struggling for respect in a sexist environment. There are also small but telling performances by Susan Sarandon as Hank's worried wife, and Frances Fisher as a topless bartender who aids in the investigation.
  7. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    A rare blend of emotional content and intelligent material that makes it simultaneously gut-wrenching and thought-provoking.
  8. 83
    Transcends politics and forces us to consider just what it is we ask of young people who answer the call to duty.
  9. Reviewed by: Don R. Lewis
    One of the best films of 2007 but I wonder if it’s difficult message will turn away filmgoers. Haggis has constructed a very bitter pill that needs to be swallowed, especially by hardcore pro-war Americans.
  10. Reviewed by: William Thomas
    Tense, powerful and considerably less crass than "Crash," Elah may be jammed with ideas that don’t all connect, but Jones’ devastating performance makes this a compassionate and very human look at the Iraq conflict.
  11. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    This is a sad, subtle and very good movie, designed not so much to make you think, but to make you feel the impact of large events on little lives.
  12. 80
    No one could mistake the movie for a documentary, but the picture has some of the rectitude of a good documentary--a tone of plainness without flatness.
  13. 75
    The haunting, heart-piercing Elah isn't perfect. It's something better: essential.
  14. Haggis' earnest and eloquent film about the impact of the war in Iraq on U.S. soldiers, and by extension, their nation, is human-scaled. And as deep and harrowed as Jones' crevassed face.
  15. 75
    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.
  16. Haggis drops exclamation points after his symbolic gestures, but in the rush to drive home his message on the confused mission in Iraq he offers a queasy revisionism that all but denies the legacy of Vietnam. Considering Deerfield is a Vietnam vet, it feels doubly false.
  17. 75
    Where "Crash" relentlessly pushed every conflict to a fever pitch, Elah takes its cues from Tommy Lee Jones' low-simmering lead performance.
  18. As a narrative, it’s clunky. As a whodunit, it’s third-rate. As the drama of a closed-off man’s awakening, it’s predictable. But Haggis has got hold of a fiercely urgent subject: the moral devastation of American soldiers serving in (and coming home from) Iraq. At its heart are deeper mysteries--and a tragedy that reaches far beyond anything onscreen.
  19. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    It's the casting of Iraq vet and non-professional Jake McLaughlin as Specialist Bonner, who fought alongside Deerfield's son in Iraq, that strikes a deeper emotional chord. His scenes with Jones, fraught with a complicated mix of bitterness, concern and guilt, are the best things in the movie.
  20. Searing drama that uses the police procedural to explore the moral and psychological devastation of the Iraq war for U.S. soldiers (and, incidentally, for Iraqi citizens).
  21. Reviewed by: Josh Rosenblatt
    So instead of a nice, clean movie about parental regret we’re forced to suffer through an unnecessary biblical metaphor stretched way past its limits of applicability and a bit with an American flag that turns Deerfield from a human being suffering a crisis of conscience into a hollow symbol of a country in a state of political disenchantment.
  22. As the movie moves through its murder mystery mode and begins racking up political points, Hank becomes a stand-in for all those Americans bewildered and beleaguered by the war. He becomes a Symbol.
  23. What Haggis obviously wants to explore is what the war in Iraq is doing to the humanity of our soldiers there. By approaching it indirectly, he simplifies it to a degree that I expect will anger many Iraq veterans.
  24. 63
    Paul Haggis switches from the problem of racism to the problem of Iraq. The war is a better fit. None of the exasperating guilt on display in "Crash" has made it into In the Valley of Elah, a solidly made genre movie: the Army mystery.
  25. 63
    The last scene of In the Valley of Elah may be the most ridiculously ham-fisted and over-the-top moment in all of 2007’s supposed prestige cinema.
  26. In the Valley of Elah dearly wants to be the Iraq war's counterpart to "Coming Home," documenting the tragic domestic legacy of a misguided foreign conflict. Wants to be, but isn't.
  27. Journalists have a saying for someone who neglects or downplays the most important part of a news story: He buried the lead. That's what Paul Haggis does with "In the Valley of Elah," which submerges two important storylines beneath a pointless, unsatisfying whodunit.
  28. 60
    However you judge the movie’s politics, and whatever its flaws, there is something inarguable, something irreducibly honest and right, about Mr. Jones’s performance.
  29. 58
    In the Valley of Elah is too inept and diffuse to be a howl against the war in Iraq. At best, it is a manly whimper.
  30. 50
    Great actors can do more than carry a movie on the strength of their performances: They can also elevate it to a height it does not necessarily merit, and for much of In the Valley of Elah, Tommy Lee Jones does exactly that.
  31. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    In my cut of the film, it ends after Jones opens the parcel from his son that's been sitting on his kitchen table since shortly after he left. I recommend viewers leave the theater at that point. You won't be sorry that you did.
  32. Reviewed by: Ella Taylor
    Elah comes packaged as a feverish murder mystery groaning beneath too many subplots and the added weight of a strained David and Goliath allegory.
  33. The characters in this somber film have the glum look of individuals delivering a Very Important Message to the world. And though this film in fact does have something crucial to convey, this is not the way to go about it.
  34. Reviewed by: Robert Koehler
    Too self-serious to work as a straight-ahead whodunit and too lacking in imagination to realize its art-film aspirations.
  35. The more I thought about it, the less I liked what it turned out to be -- a vague promise unkept.
  36. 40
    The movie chickens out. In the Valley of Elah could have been really interesting -- and really daring -- if it had focused on Hank's realization that his own child, supposedly a good kid, had perhaps committed the kinds of atrocities that would make any decent human being recoil. The movie (which Haggis also wrote) dances around that territory, but doesn't dare to march straight into its terrifying maw.
  37. Haggis also appears to have no respect for his audience. At its crudest, the film settles for's no Hollywood guy's call, particularly as he's extrapolating from a single case that could have occurred anywhere, at any time.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 68 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 26 out of 34
  2. Negative: 5 out of 34
  1. Feb 14, 2014
    I think that people are generally mistaken when they label a person as pro-war. War is a terrible, but sometimes necessary thing. Some people have written that this is an anti war movie, which is a very simplistic view and does not do the movie justice. This is a movie about the sudden transition from battle to being home and the consequences of that sudden transition. My father was in WW2 and saw battle. The transition time for him between battle and being home was longer due to the logistics of being home so many solders. He, and most solders in WW2, came home via ocean. I think the one month or so transition time between battle and being home helped by being a buffer time in which he could share experiences with others who had similar experiences and decompress. Was this a cure? No. Was it better? I think so. I don't think this movie questions the awful necessity for war, but it addresses our unrealistic expectations about soldiers reintegrating into a home atmosphere. As with most movies it focuses on the extreme visible edge of what can happen. While most soldiers do not display this type of behavior, the impact on their lives can be devastating for years. We all need to step back and treat our returning soldiers with respect and realize that while we will never understand their trauma, we can help them reintegrate into society with kindness and respect. Full Review »
  2. Nov 11, 2013
    This is a seriously thought provoking movie. Some people will hate it because they actually NEED to live in nationalistic illusions. But for those who have eyes willing to see, and ears willing to hear, this movie asks us to really think about war... what we do to the children (ours and theirs), what we are complicit in, and what we normally refuse to see, despite the mounting statistics on effects on our returning soldiers. This movie was a real wake up call, with superb acting, writing and directing... it is for grown-ups, though. Full Review »
  3. Feb 22, 2013
    In The Valley of Elah is a true story, that follows the disappearance and murder of a solider, recently returning home from Iraq. Tommy Lee Jones plays that soldiers father, a retired Military Police Officer, who launches his own investigation, and he continues to be the best actor I've ever seen. Jones rightfully received an Academy Award Nomination for this role and really should have won. No matter the film, no matter if it's good or bad, Jones simply steals the show and makes it work. Charlize Theron was also terrific as the Detective who wanted to solve the case that nobody else wanted. In most things I've seen her in, I didn't like her, but here her performance actually rivals Jones's. This film is extremely well written and very methodical. If The Valley of Elah can't keep your attention and have you on the edge of seat, talking to the screen, than nothing else will. This is honestly one of the best written, acted, and important films I've seen in a very long time. This one's going on the must see list and you will defiantly not be disappointed! Full Review »