Linda Cardellini delivers strong performance in compelling ‘Return’

Linda Cardellini is a struggling veteran who comes home after a year in the war zone in 'Return'
Linda Cardellini is a struggling veteran who comes home after a year in the war zone in ‘Return’

Return is a film that only had a brief moment in theatrical release and that’s a real shame.  It’s a moving, compelling character study of what life is like for a female veteran returning home after a year in a combat zone.

Linda Cardellini (best known as “Velma” in the Scooby Doo films and as “Sam Taggart” on ER) is “Kelli”, who has just come home from a year in a war zone.  She’s not ‘regular Army’, she joined the National Guard to get the college benefits.  Now after a year working in supply, mostly at a military hospital, she’s back.  Back to her husband “Mike” (Michael Shannon), her two kids, and her relatively boring job.  Her friends are happy to see her and they want her to know that they are all there if she wants to talk about her experiences.  She doesn’t.  All she’ll say is that she considers herself lucky because others had it a lot worse.

Things start to fall apart soon after she’s home.  Items around the house aren’t where she expects them to be.  Her job proves to be more than she can handle and she quits.  Worst of all, her husband had been unfaithful.  While she doesn’t go into serious rage over this, she does get herself drunk. This, of course, leads to a DUI. Forced into recovery, she meets “Bud” (John Slattery), an old vet himself.

Linda Cardellini offers us a strong performance in 'Return'
Linda Cardellini offers us a strong performance in ‘Return’

Her marriage in pieces, she fights for custody of children. That’s when things get worse and she’s called back to serve again for another year.  Kelli then must decide if she’ll go back into the fray, or take off for Canada.

Cardellini is on-screen for almost every single moment of Return and that’s palatable because she’s an excellent actress, and the camera clearly adores her.  Shannon is excellent as the husband troubled by his own behavior in his wife’s absence and his inability to help her adjust to life back home.  Writer/director Johnson delivers a film that doesn’t need to show us whatever it was that Kelli saw while deployed in order to understand she is struggling mightily to deal with the transition from soldier to wife and mother.  She also paints a very vivid portrait of how the war and the economy have impacted Middle America, using abandoned businesses and buildings as effective backdrops.

A fine feature film for someone so early in their directorial career.

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