A brace of powerful performances from some of US indie’s leading lights add weight to this otherwise rather slight smalltown shore-leave drama. Linda Cardellini (whom those with taste will recognise from TV’s shortlived ‘Freaks and Geeks’) plays Kelli, a working wife and mother whose stint in Afghanistan loading supplies for the National Guard (the US military’s reserve force) has left her depressed and disconnected. It doesn’t help that her seemingly devoted husband Mike (Michael Shannon) hasn’t exactly kept the faith while she’s been gone, or that her formerly satisfying existence in a crumbling Ohio industrial town now seems petty and insignificant.
Writer-director Liza Johnson’s feature debut is a film caught between two contradictory genres, unsure whether it wants to be a stark, Kelly Reichardt-style slow-cinema elegy for America’s embattled working classes or a populist TV-movie melodrama about a heroic mom trying to keep it together. Too dour for mainstream distribution but too direct and manipulative for the indie circuit, the film would struggle to make much of an impact if it wasn’t for a superb, committed cast.
Cardellini and Shannon’s marriage is wholly believable – her blank, eerie evocation of depression is unsettlingly accurate, while his reserved turn as the loving dad who knows he screwed up is pitiable and admirable. Fine support is provided by ‘Mad Men’ star John Slattery as a backwoods boozehound and his on-screen ex-wife Talia Balsam as a sympathetic hairdresser - fine actors underplaying what could have been flashy, clichéd roles. It’s just a shame the film itself isn’t up to the same standard.