Clearly there are people who really like the cinema of Paul Haggis - David Denby, for instance. And more power to them. But those critics sensible enough to recognize that the man makes lousy movies have an obligation, I think, to come out and say it - even when they agree with the political statement Haggis happens to be making. The alternative is to produce weird reviews like this one, from David Edelstein:
Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah is vital in spite of its mustiness. As a narrative, it’s clunky. As a whodunit, it’s third-rate. As the drama of a closed-off man’s awakening, it’s predictable. But Haggis has got hold of a fiercely urgent subject: the moral devastation of American soldiers serving in (and coming home from) Iraq. At its heart are deeper mysteries—and a tragedy that reaches far beyond anything onscreen.
So basically, if you ignore the plot and the characters and just use Elah as a visual aid for meditating on the awfulness of the Iraq War, you'll like the film.
Elsewhere in the review, Edelstein writes that Elah is better than Haggis' Crash, because whereas that movie hammered home the same point (racism = bad) in every single scene, in Elah it's only "every other scene that makes the same point." He notes that the film's central plot device - a broken PDA that slowly reveals its horrifying contents - is an "especially wheezy contrivance," but accepts the contrivance because the PDA's contents "echo what too few of us have seen in documentaries like The War Tapes (composed of videos taken by reservists) and in accounts from places like Haditha." He complains about the opaque, pretentious symbolism of the title (it refers to the place where David slew Goliath), but concludes, "I forgive Haggis for overreaching. He must have thought he needed to invoke the Old Testament to say what he feels about a war that stinks to high heaven."
I'm guess I'm just not sure it's a film critic's job to forgive a director for making a bad movie - a musty, clunky, repetitive, contrived and predictable movie, if we believe Edelstein's own review - because Paul Haggis happens to have his heart in the right place.
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