In the Valley of Elah Blu-ray Review
PictureIn the Valley Of Elah is a 1080P/VC-1 high definition presentation and is shot in a 2.40:1 ratio. The film is devoid of harsh colours and filmed in very neutral sense. Skin tones are realistic and the picture appears as if painted on a blanched canvas. There is plenty of detail on offer and you will see every wrinkle on Tommy Lee Jones' ageing face. There is also a fair amount of depth in the picture. Contrast levels are good. Shadow detail comes through in the night scenes and blacks are kept to sensible levels, although blacks could have been pushed a little deeper. It's not all good as there are certainly gremlins in the picture where the film suffers from excessive grain. Edge enhancement is not overly prevalent in what appears to be a naturally sharp picture but dot-crawl does reveal itself in some scenes.
SoundThis disc was a UK test pressing and came with a singular English 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack as I believe does the final Region B release. The US disc comes with the superior Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. However, due to the nature of the soundtrack all but the very demanding should be fairly satisfied with 5.1 DD mix. The film is predominantly dialogue led with most scenes being centric to singular or bi-actor roles. Sound steering is quite limited and focussed through the centre stage. Speech is very smooth and all the voices are beautifully tonally balanced. Apart from the flashback Iraqi scenes everything is very easy on the ear. The sound score for the movie is very sombre and apart from the ambient sounds the rears are not used much or to convincing effect. Bass and LFE levels are well controlled and delivered. Whilst the audio aspects of movie never singularly lift the whole film, the car chase scene is testament to the fact that there was real attention and detail put into mastering of the mix.
ExtrasThere are five extras to choose from and they are all presented in a very straightforward matter of fact way. It's not very inspiring stuff and it's much harder work than the actual film to get through.
After Iraq - (27mins 40secs) An exploration with the cast, crew and director of the film and the understanding of how the military acclimatise in the return to civilian life. Includes footage with real life soldiers including some of the cast who were actual soldiers.
Coming Home - (15mins 22secs) The crew discuss the depression and post war trauma that many soldiers suffer from and relate to the scenes in the film that deal with depicting this.
Interview with Paul Haggis - (15mins 52secs) The director speaks about the concept of the film and where the story had originally come from. He concentrates on his directional point of view and why he chose to focus and depict the events in the way that he did.
Additional Scenes - (7mins 49secs) Deleted scenes from the movie.
Trailer - (2mins 4secs) Theatrical trailer of the film.
VerdictPaul Haggis has used the dexterity that he demonstrated in directing Crash and focussed it into a deeply concentrated and singularly directional film here. It's a difficult weave but one that rewards the viewer with layer upon layer of questionable morality, sense of purpose and the futile outcomes of war. On the surface the film is underpinned by a murder mystery story that slowly unravels to highlight the conspiracies within the US army. The fact that those conspiracies sometimes serve against those that have been prepared to give their lives for their country is a highly complex and quite saddening one.
The war in question here is about Iraq, which in itself has never been short of controversy. In the Valley of Elah tackles the issues that the young US soldiers have had to deal with in the aftermath of that war; the post-war trauma, depression, reliance on illicit drugs and from the mental scars of the atrocities that took place. Although the Americans won the war the price paid by the young US soldiers remains a questionable one. The price paid by the families of those young soldiers was probably an even greater one.
Any film that deals with such difficult and uncomfortable aspects of war is likely to divide much opinion. In the Valley of Elah certainly is a mixed bag on that front and it won't be to everyone's liking. It's very sombre it's very dour and it's very hard work. The blu-ray disc lacks a little in the video department, a little more in the audio and even more from within the extras. The film however is single-handedly lifted by the towering performance of Tommy Lee Jones. Such is the stature of his performance in this film that all the other co-actors are also able to put in some standout performances for themselves on the back of him. Whether that is enough to justify a purchase is probably best left for you to consider after a rental.
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