Thursday, September 27, 2024

Into the Wild / In the Valley of Elah

It's no coincidence that two of my recent favorite films use the preposition into in the title. The use of this word reflects a kind of inward and spiritual journey of the protagonist. In the Valley of Elah and Into the Wild are two of the best films of the year.
Paul Haggis wrote and directed In the Valley of Elah. The title is a reference to the David and Goliath legend and the story is based on actual events. Tommy Lee Jones plays a crusty retired military type of few words. Upon hearing his son, newly returned from duty in Iraq, has gone AWOL he drives half way across the country to perform his own search. Upon arriving at the border town base he finds his son has been killed, and the murder itself couldn't be any more grizzly. (We see the forensic aftermath.)
The interesting thing about In the Valley of Elah is how we become part of Jones' investigation process. He sees things the military and civilian police have overlooked. Along the way he gains an ally with a detective played by Charlize Theron, herself ridiculed by her fellow detectives because of her gender. Eventually she (and the audience) makes a breakthrough in the case but only because of the perseverance she's learnt from Jones.
Haggis won the Academy Award a couple of years ago for Crash but In the Valley of Elah is so much better a film, right down to its closing shot that hits you where you live.
The movie version of Into the Wild has been gestating for over a decade. Based on a best selling book by Jon Krakauer and starring Emile Hirsch the film takes the viewer on a journey to pristine wilderness. Beware because Mother Nature does not tolerate mere mortals easily.
A person would never know Sean Penn directed Into the Wild because of two things. First, Penn has directed three previous films in a vague style reminiscent of improvisational acting. Those films are good but not for everyone. Into the Wild is so far beyond that limited genre but still contains powerhouse acting. Secondly, this is the film of a serious artist and Penn has grown as a director to the point where he lets the events and not his own personal mindset dictate the message.
Hirsch is a force of nature, but there are several awesome performers along his journey (including Bart the Bear). The actor who sticks out is Hal Holbrook. Mostly known for 60s/70s era television like his Mark Twain one-man show, Holbrook comes across like a freight train in his all too brief role.


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