Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), a decorated solider just back from Iraq and having difficulty re-adjusting to life on the home front, is understandably less than thrilled with his new assignment: working with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) in the Casualty Notification Service. These two have what must surely be one of the worst jobs in the history of history: knocking on doors and informing people that their loved ones have been killed. It is important that they deliver the news and leave, and have no further involvement with the bereaved. If only life were that simple…
The subject matter is so fraught with emotion that director/co-writer Oren Moverman knows that a melodramatic approach would be completely out of place. His approach is restrained, interested, very human, and very humane. It is also unexpectedly witty, and I’m trying to think of another way of putting that, because the last thing I want to suggest is that his is an exercise in the most appalling gallows humour. It is anything but. What it has is superb dialogue, some of which is funny, but in a way that is never out of place, or in bad taste. A striking film.
The image is as sharp and clear-eyed as the script. Colours, blacks and contrasts are the very definition of “crisp.” The flesh tones are excellent, and the film is a pleasure to look at, though the restraint exemplified by the script is present here, too, and the pictures are always at the service of the story. Fittingly, the transfer is, in turn, always in the service of the print.
Same kind of deal here, with a 5.1 mix that is both elegant and sensitive. Sound effects and music mix flawlessly, both quite clearly present simultaneously as surround elements, but neither overwhelming or distracting from the other. There is a constant reminder of the tangible reality of the world through which the characters move, but never in a showy way. Curiously, the 5.1 mix is not the first audio choice on the menu: a simple stereo track is.
Commentary Track: Present are Moverman, Foster, Harrleson and producerLawrence Inglee. That’s a lot of participants, and this kind of round-table is, on other discs, often a pretty silly exercise, but the here our commentators remain on-topic and articulately engaged with the film.
“Notification”: (24:07) An excellent companion piece to the film, this documentary looks at the people on both sides of the door that receives the fateful knock. Fascinating stuff, but also heart-rending.
Going Home: Reflections from the Set: (11:39) A much more thoughtful behind-the-scenes piece than the usual fare.
Variety Screening Series Q&A: (27:13) On-stage are Moverman, Harrelson, Foster, Inglee, co-writer Alessandro Camon and DP Bobby Bukowski. Some good exchanges here, and a nice supplement to the commentary track.
Essay by Anthony Swafford: Really a short preface on the inside case.
Shooting Script: In PDF form.
Difficult material, nicely handled, and no, it isn’t the relentless downer you might expect it to be.