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War is Hell
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
DAN IN REAL LIFE
3:10 TO YUMA
THE HUNTING PARTY
SITCOMS
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (A-3, R): Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black) is a retired military investigator living quietly with his wife, Joan (Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking) in Tennessee. Hank receives a call from the Army telling him that their youngest son, Mike (Jonathan Tucker), is home from Iraq but AWOL.

Hank heads to Fort Rudd, New Mexico, in search of his son. When a mutilated body is found outside of town, the remains are identified as Hank’s son. But Hank has a difficult time finding answers because the Army and local police dispute who has jurisdiction.

When Hank perceives the Army is holding something back, he turns to Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron, Monster), a local police officer. He also continues his own investigation, showing Mike’s photo at several topless bars near the Army post. Eventually, Hank and Emily unravel the secret thread of a hidden crime.

The title of the film comes from a story Hank tells Emily’s son, David (Devin Brochu): the Old Testament story about David confronting the giant Goliath in the valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17). The film subtly follows Hank, Emily and Joan as they confront their fears about life and death, misplaced trust and betrayal. It leads the audience to do likewise.

This powerful film won the Catholic Jury’s Award at the Venice International Film Festival in September and will receive the Catholics in Media Award for film in November. In the Valley of Elah shows one of the invisible dimensions of war: how it degrades the humanity of soldiers in every way, from the battlefield to life.

Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis (Crash) articulates the pornography of war by showing how many ways soldiers and their families are objectified by the military and the system in which it operates. The whole killing culture of war, doing drugs and finding empty solace at the many bars and clubs thriving outside a U.S. military base points to the types of collateral damage no one thinks about in the flush and façade of perceived early victory. This film is about the lack of infrastructure available to care for veterans and the outrage, the sorrow, the loss that this war in particular continues to cause.

Susan Sarandon gives a deeply felt performance as the sorrowing mother. And Tommy Lee Jones deserves Oscar attention for his understated performance as the grieving father and faithful patriot who has the courage to uncover a grave injustice. War is hell. Topless dancers, violence and problem language.

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DAN IN REAL LIFE

DAN IN REAL LIFE (not rated, PG-13): Dan Burns (Steve Carell, The Office) is a widower who writes an advice column for parents. But he is unsure about parenting his own three daughters, including teenager Cara (Brittany Robertson), who has fallen in love.

In late autumn, Dan and his family head from their home in Delaware to Rhode Island to help Dan’s parents (John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest) close up their beach house for the winter. When he goes to town, Dan encounters a lovely woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche, The English Patient), who gives him her phone number.

Back at the beach house, Dan is surprised when Marie shows up as the date of his brother, Mitch (Dane Cook, Good Luck Chuck). The arrival of Cara’s boyfriend adds more confusion.

This film centers on the question of whether it is possible to fall in love in three days. Steve Carell is appealing as the somewhat befuddled dad, and the intergenerational family is noisy and good-natured.

This is a sweet tale directed (and co-written) by Peter Hedges, who also wrote and directed the touching Thanksgiving film Pieces of April. His other writing credits include the Oscar-nominated About a Boy and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Dan may be less impressive than those films, but it’s entertaining fare for parents and adolescents. Some problem language and mild innuendo.

3:10 TO YUMA (A-3, R): Dan Evans (Christian Bale, Batman Begins) is a struggling Arizona rancher who lost part of one leg (due to friendly fire) during the Civil War. He and his sons, William (Logan Lerman, Hoot) and Mark (Benjamin Petry, The Astronaut Farmer), witness a train robbery and killing spree by Ben Wade (Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man) and his gang of outlaws. Wade shoots his old nemesis, a bounty hunter named Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold).

When Ben Wade is captured, Dan becomes one of the guards assigned with taking the outlaw to catch the scheduled 3:10 train to Yuma so he can be tried for his crimes. Wade’s faithful, terrifyingly amoral second-in-command, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster, X-Men: The Last Stand), hovers nearby to wreak havoc and rescue his boss.

This film is a remake of the 1957 version that stared Glenn Ford as Dan and Van Heflin as Wade, based on a 1953 short story by novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty).

Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) has elicited striking performances from the actors in this morality play: Charlie’s amoral lack of empathy is in sharp contrast to Wade’s immorality and Dan’s effort to save face in front of his sons.

The Bible plays a minor but essential role in this exciting film as Wade, in particular, gives voice to what his conscience is trying to tell him. In typical Elmore Leonard style, a quality of mercy transcends the film—just not too much. This film may well revive the western genre because it never falters in how it deals with humanity. It should be an award contender. Pervasive violence.

THE HUNTING PARTY (L, R) follows the unauthorized adventures of three broadcast journalists (played by Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg) who set out to capture a Bosnian war criminal. When they are mistaken for C.I.A. agents, the film turns into a black comedy, suggesting that the United Nations and United States aren’t really serious about apprehending certain war criminals. Based on a 2000 Esquire magazine article by Scott K. Anderson (“What I Did on My Summer Vacation”), this film has its moments, but the writing and direction are uneven. Violence and profanity.

SITCOMS: In 1974, Father Bud Kieser, C.S.P., founded the Humanitas Prize to award screenwriting. But in 2005, no prize was given in the category of television situation comedies because the jury could not find a deserving program (www.humanitasprize.org).

My Name Is Earl (NBC, Thursdays) received a Humanitas Prize in 2006, and The New Adventures of Old Christine, returning mid-season, received one this year for “its willingness to address the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of children.”

Comedies often dwell in the land of inappropriate subject matter, body parts and functions, and sexual innuendo. The Big Bang Theory (CBS, Mondays) is a new comedy series that follows this same path in its first episode when two geeky roommates discover the beautiful girl next door. But it could be a winner if writers would aim to fulfill even some of the Humanitas Prize’s criteria, such as “to affirm the human person, explore the meaning of life and enlighten the use of human freedom.”

BECOMING JANE (A-3, PG): Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada) convinces audiences that she is Jane Austen at the beginning of her writing career. The film covers little-known biographical facts about Jane’s romantic ties with an Irish lawyer (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland). Creatively shows the origins of Jane’s novels in her own life.

THE JANE AUSTIN BOOK CLUB (L, PG-13) is based on the novel by Karen Joy Fowler. It brings together five female Jane Austen fans and a male who is attracted to one of the women. The lesbian theme, though it may be intended to update Austen’s feminism, is superfluous. Insight into Austen’s writing; demonstrates the positive influence of literature on a reader’s moral imagination.

ANGELS IN THE DUST (Not rated): As South Africa’s apartheid came apart in the early 1990s, Marion and Con Cloete founded a village for over 500 HIV/AIDS victims and orphans where everyone is given the opportunity to die with dignity. This documentary shows how they are providing medical care and schooling for the children, in addition to providing education about HIV/AIDS prevention. A gripping and inspiring story.

BORDERTOWN (unrated) stars Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas in an account of the disappearances of over 500 women in Mexico during the last few years. It highlights the lack of effort of any agency (except the press) to stop the kidnapping and murders of many of the women and girls. Not a pleasant topic but one that begs for Christian social action and justice.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222, www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm

At www.CatholicMovieReviews.org, readers can search Sister Rose's and hundreds of other film reviews.

 


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