Directed by Oren Moverman
Written by Alessandra Camon and Oren Moverman
Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi
Running time 113 minutes
Released: November 13, 2009

Plot: Will Montgomery’s (Ben Foster) tour of duty is nearing an end. He has sustained shrapnel injuries, especially around his eyes, and is expecting an easy last three months of service when he is unexpectedly assigned to be a Casualty Notification Officer. He is paired with the career sergeant, Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) a rigid, alcoholic veteran of this detail. The rules are specific. Notify the family as quickly as possible since with the Internet and Cable News, the story gets quickly transmitted. Don’t touch the family members. Don’t get involved with them. Make sure they are in stable condition or have someone to stay with them Advise them someone will be in touch. Offer commiseration in words only.

Reactions to this news by various family members is just what you might expect. In the case of one wife though (Samantha Morton) she is unexpectedly sympathetic to the officers delivering the news, which attracts the interest of Will Montgomery. Much of the movie concerns itself with wrestling with the issue of whether he will become involved with her; what the impact of this assignment is on the men and the people they notify, life for two damaged men, what their war experience was like.

I expected to like this film more than I did. Although the performances were nuanced, the plot was not. It played out in exactly the way you might predict: a buddy movie, a love story of sorts, predictable reactions to the news. Perhaps setting it back home prevented it from ever having the power of say, Hurt Locker. The dread we experienced the first few times they marched up the steps—the only original and powerful ideas—began to dissipate before long.

It was certainly not a bad movie. Just a predictable one.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.