Debut director Oren Moverman’s novel drama focuses on the grimly professional duty performed by the US Army’s “Casualty Notification Officers.”
These are the specially-selected soldiers allotted the task of announcing the deaths to families of their boy or girl on active service with the army.
Woody Harrelson plays Captain Stone, the lantern-jawed old pro who always follows the same procedure – make sure you button-hole the next-of-kin, never depart from the approved script, and never touch the bereaved. In short “hit and git”.
Ben Foster is Will, a traumatised Iraq War veteran carrying emotional as well as physical scars who’s only got three months to serve when he gets the unwelcome gig as a CNO.
The two men clash immediately, the garrulous thrice-married Stone, a by-the-book obsessive, intimidated by the taciturn Will who is regarded as a war hero who saw action in the thick of it.
A mentally fragile Will is unhappy sticking rigidly to the rules and when he finds himself empathising with the newly-widowed Olivia (Morton), he breaks Stone’s cardinal rule and gets involved.
Both Foster and Harrelson play to their strengths, knocking the rough edges off one another until they reach a macho companionship: one which encourages the bottled-up Will to let it all out.
Like Paul Haggis’ In The Valley of Elah, this is a drama which sympathetically examines the psychological scars of the returning grunts on home ground.
Several scenes featuring the pair delivering bad news are profoundly harrowing – the newly bereaved letting out piercing shrieks of grief in their first moments of realisation.
Foster delivers a nicely calibrated performance as a troubled soul craving domesticity after a grim childhood while Harrelson provides the light relief...and gets all the best lines.
It’s a welcome addition to the increasingly interesting movie canon dealing with the downside of the war.
Don’t shoot the messenger.