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In the Valley of Elah

“Exactly the Sort of Movie America Needs”

Joseph Cirincione discusses the new film that explores evocative questions about the war in Iraq by Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis.

Over 400 people filled the main theater of the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD on Saturday night for an advanced screening of “In the Valley of Elah,” starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon, co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress. Oscar-winning Director Paul Haggis spoke and answered questions, and CAP Senior Fellow Joseph Cirincione helped introduce the preview with comments on the film and the Iraq war.

“In the Valley of Elah” is already enjoying rave reviews. Richard Corliss of Time lauds “the combination of dedicated actors and a superior script.” Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly says it “is exactly the sort of movie America needs right now—a lacerating, bone-deep inquiry into the war in Iraq, one that struggles to find meaning in the very chaos of that conflict.” Having seen this film, I completely agree.

It is also true, as another film critic pointed out, that more Americans will probably see “In the Valey of Elah” in its opening weekend than will see the superb documentary “No End In Sight”also playing at the American Film Institute theater—in its entire run. That is the power of Hollywood; that is the power of Paul Haggis.

It makes it all the more important that Paul Haggis has had the courage to confront this war honestly, look at it without flinching, keep faith with the troops who have fought this war and suffered in it, and frankly and powerfully portray what he has discovered.

Haggis previously gave us a penetrating examination of race and class in his Academy Award-winning film “Crash.” Now he has become the first major director and screenwriter to examine this war and its soldiers. His film portrays the individual pain and struggle of one family and one squad. But by extension, it forces us to examine how we have changed, and how our nation has changed, since the beginning of this five-year war.

The film focuses on the what of the war, and leaves us to discuss the why. Why did we invade Iraq? Why are we still in Iraq? Why do our media seem to have such a hard time portraying the reality of the war and the policies behind it? And why can’t our leaders bring this war to an honorable conclusion?

This is a must-see film. You will carry with you the images and insights from this experience long after you leave the theater. You will want to talk to your friends about it. And the discussion it provokes may even help us end a war that never should have begun.

Joseph Cirincione is a Senior Fellow at CAP.

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