This is not a perfect movie. There are a few flabby passages, and a few overly determined scenes. There are some fatal–though not necessarily obvious–inconsistencies in the script. The first-time director sometimes seems unsure of where to put the camera and where to point it. But the imperfections serve to accentuate what a truly superb work this really is. The cast–Samantha Morton in particular, closely followed by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson–is absolutely fantastic. (Samantha Morton, I have to stress this, is amazing. I can’t remember the last time I saw a performance this good.) The script takes serious issues seriously without pandering to us or trying to edify us. The mise-en-scène perfectly captures the comfortable banality of contemporary American spaces–TV rooms, bars, malls, kitchens, cars, etc. And best of all, above all, the movie never hurries to make connections or draw conclusions. Silence is permitted, digression is permitted, reflection is permitted, and so genuine thought is possible.
Given the complexity of the subject matter and Moverman’s lack of experience, it’s all the more amazing that this turned out so well. It could have so easily been a disaster. I see that Moverman is at work on a Kurt Cobain picture. Another project with long odds, for sure, but seeing this makes me think he might be able to pull it off. God knows Van Sant didn’t.
A slightly bizarre afterthought: This reminded me of nothing so much as the sublime You Can Count on Me, another of the very few movies I can think of which seems to depict actual human relationships rather than cartoon versions of same. Screen those two as a double bill and you’ll be walking around with your guts turned inside out for a week.