Who's In It: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi
The Basics: Military combat vets Harrelson and Foster are a casualty notification team whose job it is tell people their son or daughter has died in Iraq. Harrelson has a list of rules for the job that Foster more or less tries to follow until he meets and begins seeing angry, grieving widow Samantha Morton. Of course, that's a rule that was supposed to be so intuitively understood that Harrelson didn't even think to say it out loud. What you think happens next mostly doesn't, which is good news for the movie and for you.
What's The Deal: You don't go see a movie like this to be entertained, really. You go to see actors do their thing and hopefully they don't embarrass themselves, eat the scenery, treat the grave subject matter with disrespect and make you wish you'd just watched a documentary about it all instead. So it's a relief to report that it's all mostly low-key, pretty reserved, lacking big cathartic Oscar speeches and sidestepping the typical--even if it doesn't have a ton of fresh new wisdom about the aftermath of war--all the way through. So if you were looking for good, old-fashioned, Hollywood liberal hand-wringing to love or to hate, then this isn't really the place to find it.
Ben Foster: Awesome Or Annoying? He's been making a name for himself with crazy-pants roles in movies like Alpha Dog and 3:10 to Yuma. So sometimes here it seems like he really wants to let loose with the deranged stare and smash his head into some walls. He controls that impulse, to his credit, but the Next Sean Penn quality he's got going on could turn him from interesting to bothersome very soon. I'm still on his side, though. Just expressing concern.
Quietly Showing Up The Guys: Samantha Morton has the hardest job in the movie, making her ambivalent widow alternately furious and guilty, romantically interested in Ben Foster and unwilling to dive into anything complicated. She's got the most plates to spin and, as usual, she makes it look easy. You should check her out in Control and Mister Lonely for more examples of excellent work in movies few people actually wound up seeing.
Bad Idea Double Feature: Just don't watch this and The Hurt Locker back to back or you'll need to refill your anti-depressants when you're done.