In the genre of the anti-war film, viewers are prepared for the work’s “message“. Indeed willing even to accept a certain amount of didacticism in its spin. But when we see a movie with its storyline revealed from true life, anchored to it in fact…well, the power of any message is ten times greater.

When retired professional soldier Hank Deerfield (the incomparable Tommy Lee Jones,) first sets out to find his AWOL son , just returned from Iraq and a no-show at muster on his assigned base, he stops at the local school to correct the placement of the American flag on the flag pole, explaining to the foreigner employee, “when you hang it upside down we’re all in trouble.”

Two probes are underway in the investigation that begins when the charred remains of his son are found strewn about a field near to the base. Misrepresenting the boundaries of the base and its jurisdiction to the investigation, the Army is insistent on taking over. What shortly follows leaves little doubt they are covering up, more intent on limiting disclosure than finding the actual perpetrator/perpetrators.

The local police investigator, Detective Emily Sanders (the lovely Charlize Theron,) finds things just a bit too chummy between her colleagues and the base commander. The subtle middle finger to the head sign given among them suggests this even stronger. But it is the military investigator former career of Hank that provides the best penetration into the sordid matter. In his insistence on examining the quarters of his son, he finds his cell phone and takes it. The videos on it are graphically revealing, though they must be “cleaned up” by a tech to which Hank entrusts them. Not long afterwards the two, Detective Sanders and Hank, begin teaming up to get to the truth.

As things start falling into place the truth of what any military occupation is and what it does to those conducting it emerges. And the “standing orders” given but not avowed. While Hank had a grasp on military operations, he had none on what a renegade administration had permitted. Things the reading of John Steinbeck’s, In Dubious Battle might have revealed to him. Things that hadn’t even happened in Saigon during our war there.

Responsibility runs deeper than any single perpetrator. As comes to be revealed, it is a dehumanization process. Running throughout, it is what makes Hank’s gesture of returning to that school flagpole to hang a battle flag his son had sent from Iraq, upside down upon it, alarming with meaning.

Supporting cast includes the accomplished Susan Sarandon and other roles professionally performed. Mr. Jones’ performance is impeccable and the small town atmosphere throughout plays very well into creating a realistic setting. Direction/screenwriting by Paul Haggis is highly successful and the interpretation of the Mark Boal story, inspired.
The film has no weak spots.

Graphic, too much so for children. No nudity and language in keeping with circumstance.