Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stop-Loss and In the Valley of Elah

I saw Stop-Loss last week and what it really got me thinking about (in addition to the obvious political questions) was why In the Valley of Elah didn't 100% work.

I am a huge fan of Paul Haggis, was so excited to see this film in the program book for the TIFF last year, and was thrilled to get a ticket to the premiere.

But the film didn't thrill me like I'd hoped it would. It's not that I didn't like it. It's not like the performances weren't excellent. It's not like it didn't have a powerful message, and it's not like the film didn't make me think afterwards...

But, something just didn't gel for me, like it had with Crash, a film of Haggis's that I love, love, loved.

And watching Stop-Loss that has a different but similar topic, I think I might have figured it out. The main characters in Stop-Loss are soldiers. The ones things are happening to. The ones who have served proudly, are ready to get out, and are dragged back in via a back-door draft. The ones who come home from Iraq violent and addicted to drugs or alcohol and generally messed up. War does that.

In In the Valley of Elah, the film was seen through the eyes of Tommy Lee Jones' character and secondarily through the Charlize Theron's. Tommy Lee Jones plays the father of a returned vet killed after returning home, and Theron a cop who helps him investigate the crime when the army ignores him and writes it off as a drug deal gone bad (which, of course, it so wasn't). Looking at the story through the eyes of a parent was an interesting way to take a look at the syndrome of young men turning into monsters when they return from war. (Certainly nothing new to this particular war.) But while it was an interesting way to do it, I'm not sure it was the most compelling way, the best storytelling choice.

, on the other hand, is told from the soldiers' points of view. In the Valley of Elah was based on a true story and I think Haggis might have done better to pick one of the soldiers involved, (or even create a fictional character to add to the group if none of the actual boys were sympathetic enough), and to tell the story through those eyes.
Not that the heartbreak of a father learning what his son has done and seen and gone through isn't heart wrenching... But I think it was more emotionally engaging to actually put ourselves in the soldiers' shoes.

Don't know... One way or another, both films are worth seeing. But I think Stop-Loss was the stronger of the two. Good performances. A subject all Americans, for sure, should know about. And it's not unpatriotic or even anti-war... It simply comes out against forcing people to do something -- particularly something dangerous and traumatic -- against their wills.


Kimber Chin said...

Great post on the importance of POV.

L.A. Mitchell said...

"In the Valley" was next on my to-see list. I love your perspective on both movies. Can't wait to see them.

M. said...

this post reminded me about another 'from American POV' movie -'Sicko'.

kind of amazing to watch individual citizens struggle to deal with indifference to their problems following a sacrifice they gladly made

Joanne Rendell said...

thanks for this post. i've been wanting to see both these movies...have you seen "bodies of war" by the way? i haven't yet but want too.

Marilyn Brant said...

Haven't seen either of these yet, but I thought of you today--I just got ahold of Across the Universe and can't wait to finally see it tomorrow night :).

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