Back for good – Return review

Return – Starring Linda Cardellini, Michael Shannon, and John Slattery. Directed by Liza Johnson. Rated MA. By Richard Haridy.

Return1

American cinema has a long history of making films about war veterans returning home and the troubles they face reassimilating to regular life. From The Deer Hunter and Born On The Fourth Of July to more recent fare such as The Messenger, you wouldn’t think there was new territory to mine in this well-worn concept, but Liza Johnson‘s first feature, Return, audaciously finds new ground.

Linda Cardellini plays Kelli, a mother of two who has just returned from a tour of duty in the Middle East. Kelli is clearly damaged by her experiences as a soldier, yet attempts to resume a normal life with her kids and husband Mike (Michael Shannon). Her stark inability to restore an average routine creates waves in every facet of Kelli’s life as she slowly suffers a psychological breakdown.

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Johnson’s debut feature is an honest attempt to shift the focus from what is more often presented as a male story and there certainly is a freshness in watching this familiar tale play out from a female perspective. Unfortunately, Johnson frustratingly withholds any conventional motivation that would explain Kelli’s behaviour. We never learn what happened to Kelli in the Middle East; in fact, she steadfastly states she never suffered any particular trauma. It’s clear Johnson is trying to highlight the inherent psychological anguish that results from going to war and it’s a noble statement. Ultimately, it leaves the viewer in a distant and judgemental position as we follow Kelli down a path of increasingly self-destructive decisions.

Shannon is a wonderful surprise in his small role, playing a normal, loving spouse with not a trace of the creepy genius we are used to seeing from him. Cardellini is also fabulous despite the occasional whiff of repetition in her performance; more the fault of Johnson’s one-note screenplay. Return is a commendable, genuine, and simple drama that effectively highlights the intrinsic trauma soldiers face when trying to come to terms with the reality of life back home. Despite a mildly monotonous narrative, the movie is clear-hearted, filled with great performances, and shows Johnson to be a major talent to watch in the future.

3/5

Return is available on DVD from December 13, 2012.

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