I am no fan of Paul Haggis outside of the Bond franchise (where he should be permanently ensconced until whatever’s cooking there goes cold), but I’ll say this much about the screenplay for his Iraq War drama In the Valley of Elah: it didn’t make me want to be racist.
Actually, I didn’t actively hate Crash until it became a film, and that’s because Haggis is one of the most persuasive writers hacking it out today. I would flatter him with "great" (and, in terms of technical skill, he absolutely is), but if you’re going to be that remarkably unsubtle, you better come with the craft of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Haggis may be good on the page, but he ain’t that good.
Still, there’s something admirable about the ease with which Haggis can rope the reader into the story and keep you excitedly turning the page even though you know you’re being had. But for all of its wrenching, almost truthful father-son anguish (and the human drama in Elah is miles more convincing than any of the storylines in Crash), you can’t shake feeling resentful at being manipulated. And while all drama is obviously manipulative, the trouble with Haggis is his need to bold-underline his political convictions.
Some of that is in this new trailer: e.g. "We shouldn’t send heroes to places like Iraq." Mostly, though, the emphasis is on the impromptu investigation conducted by Tommy Lee Jones, whose son is killed under mysterious circumstances upon returning from Iraq. That’s a good thing, because if there’s one thing Elah needs, it’s gravitas, and if there’s one guy who can give you instant, pissed-off gravitas, it’s Tommy Lee Jones.
I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to see In the Valley of Elah based on this very confidently cut trailer. The film is due out on September 21st, and is already being positioned as a Best Picture frontrunner based on the enthusiasm spilling out of long-lead screenings. That late September date did Flags of Our Fathers no favors, but Elah is much more conventionally satisfying than the Eastwood film.