Looking for strong roles for women in film? Look no further than this week’s “Return,” (read our review here), a compelling tale of a woman unable to settle into her suburban life after she returns home from a tour of duty overseas. The debut feature by visual artist Liza Johnson, the film is an assured, bold look at a mother and wife who’s become a stranger to her own life all wrapped up in a slick combination between Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Red Desert” and the stark realism employed by the Dardenne Brothers. It’s got quite a great amount of talent behind it, with Linda Cardellini (“Freaks and Geeks“) in the lead role of Kelli and a supporting cast of Michael Shannon and John Slattery (“Mad Men“) all giving ace performances.
Shannon plays Kelli’s husband Mike, a man at odds with her reclusive behavior, and who has been unfaithful while she’s been deployed. Though Mike may not be the most likeable person on paper, the “Take Shelter” actor once again shows his skill in finding nuance and he makes the character relatable. “I don’t judge the characters I play, or even people in general. Life is very hard and everybody makes mistakes,” he noted in reference to the husband’s cheating. “Mike’s suffering a great deal and I think he really loves Kelli. Waiting for her to come home is like a little kid waiting for the sun to rise on Christmas morning, except it’s a whole year. You wait and wait and wait and the person comes home and they’ve changed, and something that you were holding onto is gone. He does have a very affable personality on the surface, but I think on the inside he’s suffering just as much as Linda’s character.”
Aside from the promising material and script, there were a few other things that really sold him on the project. “I think what drew me to it more than anything is that I have a real soft spot in my heart for stories where people come back from conflicts over seas,” he admitted. “It was also so beautiful of a subject without being histrionic, but done in a subtle way.” Still, a movie as small as this is tough work — there’s a lot of pressure on everyone, and the wrong kind of attitude can make things even worse. “These indie films are very hard to make, they’re very stressful and it’s a difficult working environment. It’s a real gamble, you have these meetings with people, and pretty much anyone in a meeting seems like a nice, reasonable person,” he explained. “I think Liza is a very authentic person. She doesn’t change in different circumstances — under pressure, frustrated, she maintains. She doesn’t put on an act to lure you into working with her, and I like to work with people like that.”
“Return” opens this Friday in New York and LA, with a VOD release following on February 28th.