Directed/Written by Liza Johnson
Runtime 97min. - Unrated
3 Stars (out of 4)
"Return" was released exclusively to V.O.D. platforms on Feb. 28th. DVD available March 6th. See links at bottom.
"Return" is the kind of film that makes you feel guilty in the boring parts. The story is deeply patriotic. Not patriotic in the flag-waving, anthem-singing kind of way, but patriotic in the sense that it's a portrait of sacrifice for one's country. I'm not from a military family and I've never been very close to anyone who is, however, I get the sense that "Return" is alarmingly accurate. Alarming because of the sheer numbers of families who have been through similar hardships. Regardless of political loyalties or ideology, those who sacrifice are worthy of our respect. Not just the soldiers, but their families and friends are worthy as well. I think it's okay to protest war or to protest the decisions of our government, but it's never okay to protest or discriminate against a soldier or veteran.
Kelli (Cardellini) has just stepped off a plane when the movie opens. She's still in her fatigues when she gets the long-awaited embrace from her husband and daughters. It's that iconic scene that frequents newspapers and television, making everyone feel all warm and fuzzy. What happens after the cameras stop rolling is left up to the public's imagination. "Return" is the story of what's left when the warm and fuzzy wears off.
I was impressed with the film "Brothers", about a soldier who was M.I.A. for years and is eventually found, only to come home with PTSD. That's the kind of tone I expected from "Return", just with a female lead. I was wrong. Kelli's problems are subtle. She doesn't seem to have PTSD to me, and the acronym isn't mentioned in the film. What she's dealing with are the common problems soldiers have after living an alternate life for 2 years.
Kelli spent most of her time in a military hospital. She admits that she didn't have it that bad during her deployment. A side-effect of those conditions is guilt. She seems guilty about her tough adjustment period because others had a far more difficult tour. The emotions are compounded when she learns of her husband's affair during her absence. He doesn't appear to be a bad man, just confused about how to handle the situation.
Kelli's mental imbalance also disrupts her responsibilities as a mother. She forgets which day it is and leaves her child at school. The child is found safe and well by the police, but the emotional damage is already done. Her husband decides they should separate and uses the mix-up to justify a temporary custody claim on the kids.
At her wits end, Kelli decides to drown her sorrows in a bottle. Unfortunately, she's not an angry drunk but a sleepy one. The police find her asleep on her steering wheel with the car having rolled over a road sign. Now she's without a license, kids, or a husband. Her dignity remains intact, but fragile. It's no wonder that so many veterans end up homeless or institutionalized. After you've seen combat, everything else must seem empty by comparison.
This is not a film with a happy ending. It could have been, but that would be cheating. I appreciate a movie that doesn't flinch at the thought of realism. The only bad thing I can say is that I found myself bored on occasion. I zoned out so much in the last 20 minutes that I had to watch them again just for the purposes of this review. That doesn't make it a bad film. I could see how it would be much more emotionally and intellectually gripping for those who've had similar experiences. I'm not one of those people, but I respect the film for telling their story. I therefore award "Return" with a cinematic Medal Of Honor.
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