Return

Thoughtful and powerful indie drama starring Velma from the Scooby-Doo movies

 

4 stars

 

 

Director: Liza Johnson

Starring: Linda Cardellini, Michael Shannon, John Slattery, Talia Balsam, Emma Rayne Lyle

 

Linda Cardinelli and John Slattery star in Return

The tale of the soldier returning from a war zone and being unable to readjust to civilian life is an oft-told one, familiar in American movies from Taxi Driver through Rambo to Harsh Times. It has a long precedent and predictable message and outcome; there is no place in the homeland for the dark skills so necessary in combat, and civilians, whilst prepared to send soldiers to fight their wars for them are unwilling to embrace what comes back and to live with the consequences. These consequences usually involve the mayhem and bloodshed of war being returned into the community that has spawned them, with predictable results. We've seen this drama played out so many times, it's descended into cliché.

 

What is refreshing about Return is that it refuses to follow this familiar path. This movie is not an overwrought, high-energy drama, but rather a softly spoken, internalised examination of a woman's breakdown.

 

The film opens with Kelli (Linda Cardellini) returning home from a tour of duty as a National Guardsman. Shot in tight close-up, the visuals serve to set a mood of dislocation and alienation from the onset. They're as uncomfortable to watch as Kelli feels back in her rust-belt Ohio town of half-closed malls and beat up cars. The story unfolds very much from her perspective, and it's the quiet drama of everyday life that we witness, as it slowly starts to destroy her.

 

There's barely a raised voice or shot fired in anger, it's just that Kelli can't fit in with her normal world any more, and doesn't understand why. Her job seems dull, so she quits. A night out with her friends is so uncomfortable she finds herself escaping through the rest-room window rather than endure it. She feels distant from her husband Mike (Michael Shannon), yet can't verbalise her angst, and her relationship starts to fall apart. She can't begin again, and she can't finish; the barely- started redecoration of her living room seems to hang over her like a pall.

 

Linda Cardinelli stars in Return

Linda Cardellini expresses this internal torment beautifully and mostly wordlessly, which increases the mounting sense of unease. We discover her husband has been having an affair while she's been gone; he moves out, and she's left to agonise alone with only a bottle for company. Ordered to attend a clinic following a DUI, she meets fellow damaged vet, Bud (John Slattery). There's a brutal truthfulness to the desperation of their sole sexual encounter, and it's elegantly shot, light filtering through the torn blinds of his woodland cabin. Slattery, his familiar elegance replaced by three-day stubble and a fractured edginess, turns in a fine performance as the drug- dependant burn-out she turns to for solace.

 

But there's more to this moment; she's learned she's been called up for a second tour, and if she's pregnant she knows she can avoid this. Kelli has nowhere to run, because, finally, what she's running from is herself, and the film quietly ratchets up the tension with each new twist and turn. Her inability to articulate becomes emblematic of the helplessness of her situation; she can only stare blankly as Mike tells her, "You need a plan."

 

Julie (Talia Balsam, in another finely crafted performance), whom she's met at the clinic, offers comfort and advice, but Kelli just seems out of reach, imprisoned by the intangible malaise that grips her soul. Bundling up her kids in the station wagon she can no longer legally drive, Kelli tries to escape North, only to turn around as her daughter talks blithely about what tomorrow's school day holds. Her fate is inevitable; she cannot escape it.

 

First time director Liza Jackson has stated her intention not to engage in a political argument, though it's hard to miss the fact that Kelli joined the Guard to pay for college tuition, and, having sowed the wind, is now reaping the whirlwind of America's involvement in the Middle East.

 

Linda Cardinelli stars in Return

By focusing almost exclusively on Kelli's inner monologue however, Return ultimately has the effect of alienating the viewer in the same way Kelli alienates those around her. It's a brave experiment in technique, but it only partly succeeds. One finds oneself wanting to see more of how the other characters see the protagonist; what worked in Repulsion doesn't entirely work here, because the film's intentions are more emotionally rounded, and to focus exclusively on Kelli's POV means we 're deprived of important perspective.

 

Having said that, there's much to like about Return, not least the chance to see a take on the life of a full grown, adult woman on the point of a nervous breakdown, without comfortable, pat endings or easy resolutions.

 

The acting is engaging, the camerawork and direction assured, and this bodes well for Jackson's future

 

Adam White

 

Click here, Mister or Miss, for the Return trailer:

 

 

 

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