The basic synopsis given for this when I looked at it on my tv provider was something along the lines of “A solider returns home and becomes involved with the wife of a fallen officer.” I thought that sounded okay, but in actual fact it’s a misleading synopsis because the romance isn’t at the forefront of the story. The film is about much more than the synopsis suggests. It stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, and it’s really good.
Upon returning to America Ben Foster’s character is assigned to the Casualty Notification Team, the duty of which is to go around and tell people that their beloved have died. Woody Harrelson plays the senior officer who shows him the proper procedure and it’s a really grim, powerful story of the effects of war and how devastatingly it can affect people. We follow them as they go around and tell people, and everyone reacts differently. It’s hard not to be affected by it yourself and you wonder how the actual members of the CNT in real life handle their responsibilities. It must be incredibly hard for their soul and the two actors here do a fine job at showing the internal conflict, for their have to maintain a distance and carry out their duty but it must almost be impossible not to reach out and comfort a crying widow. And after having to give so much sorrowful news it must wreak havoc with their own feelings of empathy and loss. The rookie is more obviously affected by having to give so much bad news and it’s like he’s teetering on a precipice, trying to reconcile his professionalism with his humanity.
In contrast his superior has long passed that point and has had to develop a strict set of rules so he can keep out the relentless tide of tragedy. It’s really more of a character piece than a story-driven film, and it works brilliantly. The pace is slow in some places but it can be mostly forgiven, although I thought there were a couple of scenes (mostly to do with the advertised romance) that could have been trimmed. I liked the directing style because it was unobtrusive and allowed the story to unfold and the characters to exist naturally.
Despite the gloomy nature of the film there are still some moments of light-heartedness, but mostly it’s a powerful, emotional story. It’s almost a war film about what happens after the war. I was actually a little surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, so if you come across it I strongly urge you to check it out.