(Oren Moverman, 2010)
The sort of handsome, tidy, serious, slightly old-fashioned independent film that fulfils its modest ambitions without much fat or any flights of pure visual expression, Moverman's debut is an assured piece of work; a beautifully calibrated drama following a "Casualty Notification Team" as they do the dirty, utterly thankless job of telling parents and spouses that their loved ones are dead. Set during the early years of the Iraq War, it avoids politics to focus on the experiences of the men fighting and dying and finds the ancient drama in that. It laces that with a buddy movie, as Ben Foster's injured, somewhat traumatised veteran and Woody Harrelson's cynical lifer grow from initial wariness to a warm friendship.
Their performances, alongside Samantha Morton's stunned widow and a great cameo from Steve Buscemi, anchor the film and give it real emotional weight, although Harrelson, bizarrely, delivers a similar performance to his work in Zombieland, albeit in an entirely different emotional context.
Some of the scenes of the men at work are unbearably tense and sad: Moverman is strong on textures and sensual details - an early scene of Foster dining in a restaurant with an ex-girlfriend is intent upon his intimate slurping and gnashing - and his camera generally stays tight to his characters. We feel like we are right there with them as they deliver awful news and witness people collapse when they hear it.
But it's all a little schematic and predictable, even if it ends in a satisfying, upbeat manner.