Tommy Lee Jones received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Hank Deerfield in In the Valley of Elah.
The character of Hank Deerfield is the type of character right of Tommy Lee Jones' alley. Deerfield is a war veteran, hard edged working man, and Jones is instantly comfortable in the role. Jones' whole prescene also does a great deal in giving the background of the character in his initial scenes, showing him to be a quietly intelligent, and patriotic man, who needs to know what happened to his son.
This character and the film itself reminded me a bit of Missing, and Jack Lemmon's character in that film, which is a good thing in a few ways, but unfortuantely a bad thing in many ways. It is a good thing in that Jones does a strong job in showing his care for his son, and his honest loss he feels when he learns early on that his son has been murdered.
The problems come about though when he joins in the investigation completely for his son, where the film wants to be a message film as well as a police procedural, as well as a character study, and unfortunately the message is abundantly clear the whole time, the procedural is boring because the conclusion is obvious, and the character study of Hank is given a back seat to the rest of the film.
Jones is rigged into the investigation which unfortuantely gives him little to do, as he either just asks question politely, or gets angered by those who impede his investigation. Unfortunately that is all he really gets to do most of the time, which was part of my problem with Jack Lemmon's performance in Missing. All he does is investigate for too much of the time, in an investigation that is frankly not portrayed interestingly at all.
Jones does get an occasional scene away from the investigation such as with a police officer (Charlize Theron) who helps him in the investigation. He has a nice scene where he tells the story of David and Goliathe to her son, and he is okay in creating some sort of fatherly relationship with her as well, although not good enough for it to overcome the script and be considered anything special.
The most annoying aspect of his performance, to me is his relationship with his son in the film. He slowly finds out more and more negative aspects of his son, until at the end where he changes his entire worldview basically. Now this might have worked if the script was better written, or Jones was given more time but he is not. Jones is good in showing the pain over his son, and his frustrations, but he certianly is not able to show his character changing so much with so little time to develop this change.
The film frankly takes a well handled characterization by Jones and misuses by giving him thankless scenes, and than even worse trying to force his character to do that change of his. Now I must make this clear I think that the change in the character could have been done, but it desperately needed to be written better, and Jones needed more time for development. Overall this is a performance that is fine, but it is held back by a rather poor script.