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On his first weekend back after serving in Iraq, Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) goes missing and is reported AWOL. When former military MP Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) get the phone call with the disturbing news, Hank sets out to search for their son. Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a New Mexico police detective in the jurisdiction where Mike was last seen, reluctantly helps him in his search. As the evidence grows, her missing person's case begins to look more and more like foul play, and soon Sanders finds herself in a fight with the military brass as she and Hank struggle to keep control of the investigation. Written and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash).
 

 In the Valley of Elah

In the spring of 2004, I had just finished making my first film as a director and was looking for my second. I read Mark Boal’s article, “Death and Dishonor.” The story of Lanny Davis’ search for his missing son, Specialist Richard Davis, made my heart stop.

I began doing a lot of reading – everything from small town newspaper articles to blogs that soldiers were writing about their experiences in Iraq. I talked to vets who’d just returned and some on their way back.

In this war, our men and women have to make impossible decisions every day. Sometimes those decisions work out just fine, other times they have terrible consequences. And they are almost always made in the blink of an eye.

I wasn’t interested in how a bad person lived with making the wrong decision – I wanted to know how a good person lives with making the right one.

That’s what I heard, over and over, as troops talked about the things that haunted them. They knew they’d made the right decision, they knew they would make the same decision again. But they were still having trouble coming to grips with it.

Ultimately what I wanted to explore was our responsibility. Whether we are for or against this war, those men and women are over there because we, our government, sent them there. And we can try and shirk responsibility or distance ourselves, but they are our troops, our men and women, our responsibility. What they are doing is in our name.

And that’s what brought me to the story of David and Goliath.

Every day, for 40 days, Goliath strode down the hill into the Valley of Elah, and challenged the King’s bravest and strongest warriors, but no one would fight him. Until a boy named David came delivering bread, and said “I will fight the giant.” The King offered David his own armor, but it was much too big. So, armed only with his sling and five smooth stones, David stepped into the valley to face Goliath. Goliath charged. David stood his ground and flung his stone, and struck the giant down.

An incredible feat of bravery. What the Bible doesn’t tell us is how many boys the King sent into the valley before him. How many stories of brave young men were never told? How many aren’t being told today?

So, I decided to take all that, boil it down until it could fit into a thimble and bury it deep in the heart of a murder mystery, set in Tennessee and New Mexico.

I want to thank Lanny Davis and his wife, Remy. They were the inspiration for this, and while the story changed, what they suffered in their search for the truth is more than any parents should ever have to bear. The movie is dedicated to the memory of their son, Richard, a good boy and a good soldier, who did everything his country asked him to do.