New on DVD: 'The Valley of Elah' and 'Michael Clayton'

In the valley of Elah, a shadowy murder case; a corporate conspiracy catches up with Michael Clayton.

Courtesy of Warner Home Video

In the Valley of Elah (R)

"In the Valley of Elah," directed and written by Paul Haggis, was among the first of a glut of Iraq war films rolled out late last year, and among the first to be flatly rejected by American audiences (total gross: less than $7 million). But unlike other films, "Elah" processes the conflict tangentially, in concentric circles. Vietnam veteran Hank (Tommy Lee Jones) gets a call that his son, Mike, has disappeared from Fort Rudd, only a week after returning from Iraq. Mike goes to investigate; but like all good flawed heroes, he doesn't know when to stop, and ends up burrowing deep into a Grade-A murder mystery. "Elah" is entertaining to watch. It is, as has been noted elsewhere, not really a war movie, but a military thriller, full of razor-sharp, dextrous performances. But Haggis has tried so hard to pack it thick with multiple lessons – on grief, on death, on war, on the Bible – that it feels like an overpacked freight train loose on the rails. Grade: B– – Matthew Shaer

Michael Clayton (R)

"Michael Clayton" opens with a night worker mopping the floors of a New York law firm. But the story's real janitor is the titular character (George Clooney), a rumpled lackey who cleans up unseemly affairs for the company. This time, he finds himself in mortal danger when a fellow lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) decides to go all Erin Brockovich on a corporate client that is producing harmful chemicals. The crackling climax features a face-off with that firm's chief counsel (Tilda Swinton), whose very stare is enough to induce frostbite. In the commentary track, writer Tony Gilroy reveals his mistakes as a first-time director. (Never write a scene with the words, "just before dawn," he says.) The film's multiple Oscar nods are hardly a blunder. Grade: B+ Stephen Humphries

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