directed by Oren Moverman
Oren Moverman’s drama about Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery and his crisis of conscience is a gruelingly haunting American portrait and one you aren’t likely to soon forget. Ben Foster, one of his generation’s strongest talents (and time will only serve to extend his ranking amongst the best of various generations) and the high point of several films that missed the mark (most notably, Alpha Dog and 3:10 to Yuma), gives probably his best performance yet as Montgomery, assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification Service. His new boss is Captain Stone, a tortured soul who copes with the emotional extremity in impulsive bursts. Together, the pair deliver tragic news of loss, death and grief to bereft N.O.K. (watch the film to find out what the acronym stands for). Each notification is a new horror, gut wrenching encounters that make the firing sequences from Jason Reitman’s Crap In the Air seem like surprise birthday parties. Woody Harrelson (Captain Stone) is an enigma to me in that he characterizes a peculiar species of actor. When he isn’t right for the role, it makes me wonder why anyone ever allowed Harrelson to even set foot on a stage. But when he is properly cast, he can become the best part of even the most brilliantly crafted film (see No Country for Old Men for a perfect example of his supreme talent). Interestingly enough, Harrelson scored twice last year, once for his crazed comic turn in the clever Zombieland as well as his role in The Messenger, which earned him a much deserved Oscar nod. It’s a shame at Harrelson’s bad luck: Christoph Waltz had to star in Inglourious Basterds the very same year. Foster and Harrelson mix like nitric acid and glycerin, creating a quietly combustible concoction that rails against the tragedy of the American Dream. Samantha Morton is another of her generation’s brightest stars, from such wonderful performances in films like Woody Allen’s severely underrated Sweet and Lowdown and Jim Sheridan’s magnificent In America, and she finds herself heartbreakingly sincere and real as Olivia, wife of a killed soldier who finds solace in Will’s company. If the trailer for this film didn’t hook you, then you got problems, my friend, but give it a chance. It will stay with you in ways you never expected.