Return (R15)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner9/04/2012

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 97 mins

Impressively directed, sharply observed and emotionally engaging drama with a terrific central performance from Linda Cardellini.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Liza Johnson, Return stars Linda Cardellini as Kelli, a National Guard volunteer who returns to her husband Mike (Michael Shannon) and their two young daughters after a year's service in Afghanistan. However, Kelli finds it increasingly hard to readjust and constantly feels out of place, which only gets worse when she discovers Mike has been having an affair with attractive neighbour Cara Lee (Bonnie Swencionis).

After Kelli quits her factory job she seeks solace in booze, eventually ending up in rehab, where she meets jaded fellow veteran Bud (John Slattery). But when Kelli receives a mobilisation order requiring her to return to Afghanistan, she turns to desperate measures in order to avoid being sent back.

The Good
Linda Cardellini is terrific as Kelli, delivering a strongly internalised, emotionally powerful performance where her haunted eyes and facial expressions constantly belie what she's actually saying; as such, we strongly sense that Kelli is either unwilling or unable to talk about her experiences and we feel her desperate desire for things to go back to normal. Shannon is equally good as Mike, who's wrestling with his own issues (brought sharply home in the scenes with Mike and a group of soldier's wives) and there's strong support from the always excellent Slattery.

Johnson adopts a Dardennes-style, almost documentary-like approach for the film, with Anne Etheridge's camerawork following Kelli's every move (Cardellini is in every scene), often with tight close-ups on her face. This is extremely effective, allowing us to experience the alienating effect of Kelli's surroundings, whether it's the constant drone of the TV, the noise of her children playing or the inane chatter of her old group of friends – it's clear that what once seemed important and everyday has now lost all meaning (if nothing else, the film makes it crystal clear why so many returning veterans turn to alcohol).

The Great
Johnson's sharply observed, thoroughly researched script commendably resists the obvious clichés – in particular, we never find out exactly what happened to Kelli overseas; instead, she repeats the phrase “Well, you know, a lot of people had a it a lot worse” like a mantra, whenever anyone asks her how she's coping. Similarly, the dialogue (or lack of it) feels extremely natural and organic throughout, adding to the documentary-like feel of the film.

Worth seeing?
This is an impressively directed and emotionally engaging drama with a terrific central performance from Linda Cardellini. It's also worth checking out in conjunction with recent British drama In Our Name, which starred Joanne Froggat and addressed the same subject. Recommended.

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Content updated: 19/02/2020 21:29

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