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Studio: E1 Entertainment
Year: 2011
Cast: Linda Cardellini, Michael Shannon, John Slattery, Talia Balsam, Paul Sparks, Louisa Krause, Emma Lyle
Director: Liza Johnson
Release Date: May 21, 2012, 7:31 pm
Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:38m:05s

“Do you think these walls are too yellow?” - Kelli (Linda Cardellini)

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Linda Cardellini has been laying relatively low since her stint on ER, but, according to buzz surrounding this film's limited theatrical run, she's back with a vengeance. A strong supporting cast sure doesn't diminish my high expectations for this film either.

Movie Grade: A-

DVD Grade: C+

Despite her great acting talent and at least a few memorable roles, you’d be excused for not expecting Linda Cardellini to headline a slew of films, let alone one. Some of you might not even recognize Cardellini’s name until you’re reminded of her work as Sam in ER, Lindsay in Freaks and Geeks, or Velma in the Scooby-Doo movies. Fortunately, writer/director Liza Johnson knew exactly who Cardellini was, and cast her as the lead in her first major feature film, 2011’s Return. Here’s hoping a slew of people rediscover this excellent actor via Entertainment One’s DVD release of Return.

Kelli (Cardellini) has just returned from a lengthy tour of duty in Iraq, and can’t wait to reunite with her husband, Mike (Michael Shannon), and daughters, Jackie (Emma Lyle) and Bree (Tabitha and Victoria Depew). She’s welcomed with open arms by her family and friends, but it isn’t long before Kelli is struggling. There isn’t anything wrong, mentally or physically, however, as Kelli’s struggles center on the differences between the intensity and poignancy of a warzone and the humdrum, useless feeling she has towards domestic life. Soon, her marriage and relationship with her kids is severely threatened, and Kelli faces a huge decision that could change her life even more.

Johnson’s film, while uneven, is a brisk, entertaining, often sad exercise in strict melodrama. Her movie is also never sappy, and Johnson doesn’t resort to cheap, manipulative tactics (like so many Hollywood-driven tear-jerkers do these days) to make her point. Instead, she lets things fall into place, powered by Linda Cardellini’s stellar work, which, in a different, even somewhat marketed film, would easily garner her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Cardellini makes Kelli an extremely dynamic presence throughout, making us both feel for her struggles to return to normalcy, and also, at times hate her for some seemingly rash decisions that she makes. Still, what really sells the effectiveness of her performance is the fact that, as the end credits roll, we realize that Kelli has done the only thing she could have done to make herself and her children happy in the long run.

An excellent supporting cast has also been assembled here, with the always captivating Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) and John Slattery (Mad Men) being the perfect compliments to Cardellini’s showcase performance. Shannon has some incredibly tough scenes as Kelli’s husband, giving an appropriate, uncharacteristically subdued performance rather than ever going over the top. Slattery is much rougher and ragged than we’re used to seeing him, but he’s extremely believable as a “recovering” alcoholic/drug addict who can relate to Kelli, at least on some level. While we’ve seen deeper, more intense films involving people returning home from various wars, Return is a small, low budget example of one that deserves its place amongst the flashier, award-winning entries in an often underappreciated subgenre.

The DVD, itself, is a solid effort, albeit nothing spectacular compared to some of its peers. The anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 widescreen presentation wears its low budget nature on its sleeve, with an often soft image and some sequences where a severe lack of detail is evident. Still, the overall transfer is solid for a standard definition presentation, with a nice color scheme and accurate flesh tones throughout. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix stays mostly up front, but the most is most impressive in keeping the actors’ speech consistently crisp and clear in a film that relies quite heavily on dialogue to be effective. The few extras include an insightful audio commentary track with director Liza Johnson and cinematographer Anne Etheridge, five deleted scenes, and the original trailer for Return.

Chuck Aliaga May 21, 2012, 7:31 pm