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by Jay Seaver

"Michelle Monaghan is here for the long haul."
4 stars

"Trucker" is a working-class drama, and that may be a factor in why it didn't get released on more screens. Dig into it a little, and it's similar to "Up in the Air" - a story about a contentedly itinerant person changing by forming attachments - but without the jet-set gloss. It's got a nice cast, doing fine work, and hopefully those recognizable names will lead to people giving it a shot on video.

The trucker of the title is Diane Ford (Michelle Monaghan). She's an independent, both in terms of owning her rig and not being tied to any man for longer than a night. Well, there's her neighbor and best friend Runner (Nathan Fillion), but he's married and that's half a step farther than she's willing to go. That's about to be challenged, though, as her ex-husband's girlfriend Jenny (Joey Lauren Adams) has just popped up to drop off Peter (Jimmy Bennett), the 11-year-old son that Diane hasn't seen since he was a baby. His father Len (Benjamin Bratt) is being treated for colon cancer, and Jenny has family obligations of her own, so Diane's stuck with the kid for three weeks.

One thing that's well-done and maybe a bit unusual about Trucker is that, even though it's natural for for the sympathy in a situation like the one with Diane and Peter to be heavily slanted toward the child, Peter initially gets on our nerves. And not in an annoyingly precious child-actor way; Jimmy Bennett turns in a very good performance as a kid that takes some effort to warm up to. He's angry, lashes out, and does stupid things; Bennett captures something akin to a justified brattiness, the sort where you can understand where the kid's coming from but can also recognize that this particular attitude isn't going to make anything better. It's quite the naturalistic performance for one so young.

He gets to have most of his scenes opposite Michelle Monaghan, and that brings out the best in both of them (if not their characters). If this movie had managed a higher profile, there's no doubt that this would be a breakout role for her. Monaghan has made a career out of being likable on-screen, and Diane is the sort of role that gets people to realize that it's not just good looks; she knows how to act well enough to get her hooks into people. Here, writer/director James Mottern gives us plenty of reasons to look down on Diane; Monaghan finds ways to present it that don't so much have us liking her, but figuring that she has certainly been led to this point by decisions that must have made sense at the time. She gets that the things that make Diane able to stand on her own two feet and the things that keep her alone are two sides of the same coin.

Nathan Fillion is another guy who has built up a reputation based on likability, and he puts it to good use here; his Runner is an amiable person for Diane to talk to. He's full of charm, the sort that makes it very easy for the audience to avoid asking the question "but what about his wife?" Joey Lauren Adams is in and out fairly quickly as Jenny, and Benjamin Bratt isn't around for much longer as Len, but it's plenty long enough to get a sense of them. Bratt especially does good work, using just words to sell his relationships with the women in the cast, and giving a sense of just how Len is doing without a whole lot of visible suffering or an emotional death scene.

That's one of the things I like about Mottern's film; it doesn't feel the need to drag every single plot thread out to its eventual conclusion. What he does isn't always subtle - he actually has the kid tell Diane that she's "the most scared person" he knows, briefly hitting the "too-wise child" and "obvious statement of theme" buttons simultaneously. But he recognizes his production's strengths, letting his cast do their thing without spending a whole lot of time jerking them from story point to story point. He shows us the world his characters live in without passing a whole lot of judgment, letting it be complicated but not compromised.

This is the sort of picture that could have netted Michelle Monaghan some awards or nominations, if a few things had broken right business-wise. They didn't, apparently. Hopefully the right people will see it anyway, and recognize that Monaghan has a ceiling well above "cool but secondary girl who looks good in a Santa dress", because she's certainly shown herself capable of bigger things here.

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originally posted: 01/23/10 12:00:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Vail Film Festival For more in the 2009 Vail Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2009 Florida Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/18/10 Billl Flowers Will recommend to my son who is a long haul trucker. 4 stars
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  09-Oct-2009 (R)
  DVD: 05-Jan-2010


  DVD: 05-Jan-2010

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