The Valley of Elah is the legendary spot between two mountains where, according to 1 Samuel, young David slew the mighty Philistine warrior Goliath. The site is an appropriate allusion for writer-director Paul Haggis’s movie about the American experience in Iraq. In the Valley of Elah posits that the U.S. may be the military Goliath brought down by hit-and-run insurgents.
The story, based in part on a chilling Playboy article by Mark Boal, focuses on American soldiers who have just returned from Iraq to a base in New Mexico. One of them, Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker), is reported AWOL within days of his return. When news of Mike’s disappearance reaches his tough-as-nails father, the ex–military MP Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones), the old man decides to leave his business to find his boy. So begins a story that is part Parable of the Prodigal Son and part John Ford’s The Searchers.