Starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton
Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+
An American soldier (Foster) returns home from the war in Iraq and is given the task of informing relatives of deceased soldiers of their loss. Given strict orders by the military and his partner (Harrelson), a tough loner that regrets never taking part in real combat, to coldly tell the next of kin and leave, he longs to connect to the humanity that he left behind in the war.
After first watching this film I didn’t quite know how to take it. The trailer and basic description tell the story of a soldier that falls in love with the widow of a fallen officer, a move that is completely taboo. I was glad to see the film is not that story. It’s not that easy. The relationship between Foster and Morton is interesting, but that is a minor subplot.
The real story lies within Foster himself as he tries to heal both physically from a wound he received in battle, and emotionally from the many scars that formed up while fighting. At first he is resistant to the new job claiming that he has no grief counseling experience. He is quickly told he is not to counsel. He is merely to say the words on the script, do not touch the N.O.K.’s, and move on. After a while, you can just see him wanting to leap out of his skin to help the people being told about their lost sons/daughters/husbands and not being able to because of rules and regulations. It makes him sick. And his performance his perfect. Also played to perfection is Harrelson, whose tough as nails, no vulnerability character can see the empathy in his partner’s eyes, and doesn’t like it one bit.
As for a general story, the inner turmoil doesn’t provide for the best plot, which might drive some folks nuts that wish for tighter, more by-the-book storytelling. The writing and directing are first rate as far as pacing, character-building, and overall energy, but it takes a lot of thought to figure out exactly what the film is about and there still might be some arguing afterward.
If you can’t tell, this is a difficult film to watch, but that being said, I want to watch it again. There is a complexity to the story and characters that I want more insight on and I really believe that the movie might grow on me with a repeat viewing. A-