I've been thinking about Paul Haggis' new movie In the Valley of Elah (9 screens). It's not a good movie, with its awkward mix of mystery and soapbox and its blatant attempt to snag a few Oscars. Poor Charlize Theron is stuck in the same kind of role that netted her an Oscar (Monster) and another nomination (North Country), wearing boxy clothes and no makeup and working in an all-male workplace, teased by her heartless co-workers. But Tommy Lee Jones' performance struck me as something special. Like Theron, he is also repeating a previous performance. But while Theron's role is all about its external factors, its layers of significance, Jones' performance has sprung organically from his personality.

For The Fugitive (1993), Jones won an Oscar for playing the relentless, meticulous pursuer, chasing Harrison Ford throughout the picture, and -- by some accounts -- stealing the film from its star. Jones made the role unique by dropping the typical "obsession," a word that is overused in Hollywood today, and concentrating on emotionless process and routine. It's a stripped-down performance; he saves his energy for his clipped, barked line deliveries. But at the same time, Jones' sad, droopy eyes revealed just a hint of his character's origins. He repeated the role, literally, in U.S. Marshals (1998), and again, figuratively, in Double Jeopardy (1999) and The Hunted (2003), as well as a comic version in Men in Black (1997).

categories Columns, Cinematical