Friday, February 17, 2012
"Return" is a showpiece for the actress Linda Cardellini, who plays Kelli, a soldier just getting back to Ohio from a tour of duty and trying to resume her life as a factory worker and wife and mother. The experience of the film is highly fragmented, at times logy, occasionally compelling, but always quiet, understated, free of movieish artificiality or hysterics. It's the lack of a prefabricated arc and easy resolution that gives it its lingering effect.
What happens in "Return"? Kelli returns to the factory floor, where her boss held her job for her the whole time she was deployed. One night, she goes out to a bar with her girlfriends and is introduced to a woman who compliments Kelli on her daughters and mentions she even helped Mike, Kelli's husband, with them once while Kelli was away. Kelli gets a faraway look in her eyes and walks off the job, saying only, "I can't." She takes to working from home, making telemarketing calls, and half-watching a lot of television. One day, she forgets to pick her daughter up after her church group. A distance grows between her and Mike, who tells her their bed would be a lot more comfortable to sleep on. She comes hat in hand to ask for her job back, only to find the factory's been sold - there's nothing left but some pigeons, but she's welcome to try to sell those. (She does.) Her drinking becomes more frequent, and more prolific. Mike moves out, and she only gets the kids a couple nights a week. The woman she met at the bar is now living with Mike. (Michael Shannon manages to make his solidity and his offbeat look seem sexy, in a Midwestern way.) Kelli tells everyone who asks what happened overseas only that "a lot of people had it a lot worse." (What did she see over there? "Supplies, mostly - ever seen an airplane full of rubber gloves?") She gets a DUI and completes a treatment program, making a couple of casual friends. "I'm not a cop," one tells her when she starts for her car before her license has been reinstated, "but you need your file to be squeaky clean when you go in for that custody hearing." She walks instead, a long, lonely walk. Another friend takes her to his place by the lake, where his activity of choice is getting high on Oxy. "If you'd rather wait for a ride," he tells her, "I should be good in like an hour." On a fleeting impulse, she takes the kids and heads for - where, the elder daughter asks? "North," she says. Then she hears something that makes her turn around. While she's filing her paperwork with the court, she gets the news her troop has received mobilization orders - a return of another kind.