Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I hate CRASH. I really do. And I’m not much for the rest of what Haggis has done so far, either. So I’m not the guy you should listen to when it comes to sizing up his first film as a director since he won the Oscar for CRASH. IndustryKiller!, on the other hand, has had a chance to see an early screening of the movie, and here’s what he had to say:
Paul Haggis, a man of many talents. Co-writer of maybe the best Bond film of all time, yet also one of the most undeserving best picture winners of all time. Oh yes Paul you are nothing if not a paradox. And thus is how I feel about the man. Casino Royale was one of my favorite films of last year, I'm one of the few who still like Mystic River even after repeated viewing, and while Million Dollar Baby certainly didn't deserve best picture it's still a strong actors showcase intimately directed by Eastwood. Then there's Crash. When Crash won best picture it took every ounce of my strength not to throw my television out the window. To make matter worse to this day I still hear philistines talk about what a wonderful examination of racism it was. For the record it isn't. But that is where I was on the Paul Haggis topic when I walked into the very first screening of his new film "In the Valley of Elah" tonight at the Arclight in LA, presided over by none other than the man himself. I'm going to give a slight spoiler warning now for those who want to go in blind. The film starts out with Tommy Lee Jones getting the call that his son has gone awol from the military after a tour in Iraq. being an ex military man himself, he takes the liberty of driving to some town specified as a "two day drive" to look himself in and around the military base. What follows is a hodgepodge of scenes of Jones showing up places and asking questions until he finds out his son is actually dead and it turns into a Haggified version of those Ashley Judd crime thrillers but with Charlize Theron instead. First of all we can lay it to rest right here, Haggis love to preach. He likes to start out pretending he's not preaching but by the end of the film he's snuck up on his soap box and is yelling right in your ear hole. First racism, now the Iraq war. Which is bad in case you didn't notice. Real bad. So bad in fact that in the world of this film every soldier we encounter who has been there is a murdering, war crime commiting bastard who absolutely cannot adjust to normal life once he is back in the states without resorting to violence. And I know this film is based on an actual event, but the way it's portrayed it seems, not like a small cache of soldiers, but the American military at large. To drive it home there are little vignettes of films Jones's son took on his cell phone in Iraq that pop up every now and again that mostly show American soldiers killing, torturing, and disrespecting the dead. Hell just for good measure we even get a random side event where a previously unseen soldier has killed his wife for no good reason. You know just in case you missed that one on CNN. Thus is the problem with Mr. Paul Haggis. He presents us the societal problem in an appropriately emotional package and then presents the solution as.....oh wait, he doesn't present a solution. Ever. Or even attempts one for that matter. And that problem I mentioned before, is REALLY obvious. We have racism in our society? Thanks Paul. The Iraq War is bad for the soldiers? Ya don't say! I'm waiting for his next masterpiece "The Sky is Blue". What do we do about these problems? Don't ask Paul he's just here to make movies about 'em. There is literally no insight into the situation to be gleaned from this script. And worse, he makes a bad crime thriller out of it. And just in case it isn't Hollywood enough for you he throws in a cute female cop played by Charlize Theron who, doggonit, just doesn't get the respect she deserves from her cheauvinist male counterparts. (Whoa there's ANOTHER societal problem!) Why she joins Jone's on his quest and starts openly bringing him to crime scenes and to question witnesses while none of the other cops seem to care is beyond me. If there is one thing Crash had going for it it's excellent performances. But with the exception of Tommy Lee Jones Haggis strands his actors. Jones is great though, the best moments of the film are when he says nothing and just let's the weight of it all hang for a moment on his leathered face. Theron is wasted in a cliche role that is more or less completely unnecessary despite its size. The same goes for Jason Patric, which is a crime given his talent and that he only does a film once every few years. Moreover Haggis is still trying to be everything to everyone. (at least Crash had equal opportunity racism) Hell he even throws a precocious kid scene somewhere in there just in case the blatant disrespecting of Iraq troops turned you off. So if you aren't a fan of his particular brand of applesauce then this is only going to sour the pot more. To cap it all off as I was walking out of the theater some guy was saying it was "the first Oscar calibur movie of 2007", then again this guy was also saying it to random strangers and seemed vaguely crazy. Which I thought made total sense. IndustryKiller! out.