Thursday, June 3, 2010

Trucker (2008)

I'd like to begin this Pick of the Moment for Trucker by quoting Roger Ebert, at whose Ebertfest I first saw this film:
"There's one of those perfect moments in Trucker when I'm thinking, This is the moment to end! Now! Fade to black! And the movie ends. It is the last of many absolutely right decisions by the first-time writer-director James Mottern, who began by casting two actors who bring his story to strong emotional life. Both of them show they're gifted and intelligent artists who only needed, as so many do in these discouraging times, a chance to reveal their deep talents."
When I read that first paragraph, I knew I was going to see something special. What Roger (and I'm sorry for the namedropping, but between his blogging and tweeting and clubhouse-ing, he encourages that kind of thing) was promising was a perfect movie--and that does not necessarily mean one for the ages, Top Ten topper, King of the Canon; no, simply one that knows what it wants to do, and makes "absolutely right decisions" to do it.

Trucker is that kind of perfect movie. The actors Roger refers to are Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III, Gone Baby Gone, Eagle Eye) and then-twelve-year-old Jimmy Bennett (young Kirk last year, one of the sons in Evan Almighty); and they never misstep, never go for the easy flourish that would make their characters more recognizable as types--and so less interesting as characters going somewhere. Monaghan is the titular trucker, Diane, who has no time--and less emotional energy--for her son, who lives with his father and knows exactly what she is: as he puts it, a bitch. But her husband (Benjamin Bratt, pitch-perfect, from the soft accent he rolls around--like a sad Woody Harrelson--to his sickbed posture--not strong, but still smiling a little for his son's sake) has cancer, and she's forced to take in her son.

You can predict where this is going, but plot surprises do not matter here. Instead, Trucker wants to bring life to a familiar plot, and the actors take control of this urge and never overreach. I was especially happy to see Nathan Fillion (fellow nerds don't need to be reminded he was the charming Capt. Reynolds on the coolest SF TV show just about ever, dude, Firefly) as Runner, Diane's almost-boyfriend. Casting the low-key, self-effacing--but also pretty-boy charming--Fillion is yet another perfect decision by Mottern: We want Diane to choose Runner, but he's married, and there's enough hesitation on both sides to make for another movie. But Trucker is more than a character study, because Mottern wants his plot to matter--and he wants us to care about what's happening--and so character, performance, plot and direction need to work together. Mottern pulls this off, and effortlessly. I haven't seen such a satisfying film in a long time.

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