By Rich Cline
An edgy sense of realism makes this back-from-war drama surprisingly engaging, even though it's never as original as we hope it will be. But solid, naturalistic performances and an urgent, intimate approach make it worth a look.
After a tour of duty, Kelli (Cardellini) is home with her husband Mike (Shannon) and their two young daughters. She dives right back into her factory job, but something doesn't feel right. After a couple of setbacks, she discovers that Mike has been having an affair with Cara Lee (Swencionis). And when she has her driving licence taken away and is court-ordered to rehab, Kelli's rebellious streak kicks in. It's there that she meets Bud (Slattery), a jaded fellow war veteran who refuses to play by the rules.
While keeping the camera close to Kelli, Dardenne-style, writer-director Johnson makes the film intensely personal that it's sometimes uncomfortable to watch. Kelli's inner turmoil is somewhat elusive, and yet we see how it emerges into every aspect of her life. Cardellini plays this transparently, never overplaying the drama or punching the emotion, and we feel every wrenching wave of pain that washes over her. It's one thing to endure unspeakable horror in battle, and it's another to find your homelife pulled out from under you.
Essentially, this is all the film has to say, and these same themes have filled cinema screens for a century. It's more observant than revealing, beautifully assembled and told with skill and intelligence. These are universal themes that almost everyone can identify with. Yet like the generic title, the film isn't hugely memorable because Johnson never injects something new. But it's still worth seeing, since Johnson follows the events with such a sharply focussed eye.
The camera rarely strays from close-up angles, usually following Kelli into yet another harrowing encounter or quietly confusing situation. And perhaps the best thing about this film is that it never offers easy explanations of her inner turmoil or simplistic answers to her problems. Instead, it's a rare film that actually lets the questions linger in the air for us to grapple with ourselves. And in this sense, it does offer hope even in its rather downbeat way.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 10th February 2012
Distributed by: Dada Films
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 31 Rotten: 6
Cast & Crew
Producer: Noah Harlan, Ben Howe
Screenwriter: Liza Johnson