| This emotionally moving drama doesn’t shy away from the reality that young men and women are dying in Iraq patriotically serving our country. It also takes a different approach, with an intense character study of a model soldier returning from combat.
Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster from “3:10 to Yuma” and “Six Feet Under”) comes home a decorated war hero after suffering traumatic injuries to his left eye and leg. He has only three months of service left in his enlistment period. He gets assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification team at Fort Dix, N.J.
There he is paired with Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson from “2012,” “Transsiberian” and “No Country for Old Men”). Montgomery receives a battery-powered beeper and a guidebook with a canned script that has blank spaces to fill in the name and rank. The pair’s job is to deliver the news of a death within 24 hours of a positive identification to the next-of-kin (NOK).
Stone shows Montgomery the ropes as they knock on several doors of the loved ones left behind. Harrelson says, “There is no such thing as a satisfied customer.”
One of the cardinal rules is that you avoid physical contact with the NOK. Montgomery crosses the ethical line when he gets close to Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton from “In America” and “Minority Report”), a newly widowed mother with a young son.
Montgomery has psychological issues of his own to deal with while adjusting to civilian life. He demonstrates a pent-up rage while listening to loud music and drinking heavily.
Upon his arrival home, his childhood sweetheart, Kelly (Jena Malone from “Into the Wild” and “For Love of the Game”), advises him that she is in a serious relationship with another man.
Stone is equally damaged emotionally and plays the sympathy card to get women in bed. He has been married and divorced three times, twice to the same gal. He is in AA and has been sober for three years.
Former Israeli paratrooper Oren Moverman (“Married Life”), who wrote the screenplay with Alessandro Camon, makes an impressive directorial debut. He allows the actors to tell the story in an honest, straightforward manner without any distractions from special effects, cinematic flourishes or flashy gimmicks. Foster and Harrelson have a winning camaraderie as they develop a bond of trust and friendship. Both performances are memorable and deserve year-end awards consideration.
Morton plays a unique love interest and proves once again why she is one of the best actresses in Hollywood. Steve Buscemi (“Ghost World” and “Fargo”) makes the most of his limited screen time in the role of a grief-stricken father who lets his anger come out with harsh words and a gob of spit.
The musical score from composer Nathan Larson is effective in conveying the varying moods. Willie Nelson gives a heart-tugging rendition of “Home on the Range” over the ending credits.
The movie has received accolades at the Berlin International Film Festival (Peace Film and Silver Bear Awards) and Deauville Film Festival (Critics Award and Grand Special Prize).
This gripping and heartfelt film is dedicated to the brave soldiers who have died in Iraq. It is a grim reminder for us to not forget that many American military personnel continue to be in harm’s way on foreign soil. A momentum-building platform release finds it opening on Friday exclusively at the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"