The devastating psychological fallout from America's war on terror is tellingly examined in this debut drama from writer-director Oren Moverman. An Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster play the US Army "casualty notification officers" who are charged with delivering the death knocks to families informing them their sons or daughters have been killed in service. Samantha Morton plays the war widow to whom Foster's Iraq veteran is romantically drawn.
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.