January 24, 2010

MOVIES: Trucker (James Mottern, 2009)

As a whole, this is a solid entry in the working-class slice-of-life category -- nothing spectacular and a bit predictable, but reasonably good entertainment -- but it's anchored by one of the year's best performances from Michelle Monaghan.

She plays Diane, a long-haul truck driver who has settled into a comfortable, if not entirely fulfilling, life. She's on the road much of the time, a job which, in combination with her natural reserve and unapproachability, has kept her from making any serious ties to other people. She has a good friend, Runner (Nathan Fillion), a married man with whom she comes as close to having an affair as one can come without actually having sex.

Her life is thrown into turmoil when her ex-husband (Benjamin Bratt) is hospitalized with cancer, and she's forced to take in her 11-year-old son Peter (Jimmy Bennett), who she hasn't seen since she walked out on them ten years ago. Single motherhood and truck driving aren't highly compatible, and Diane struggles to find a way to fit Peter into her life. He's not a sweet, cuddly kid, either; he's angry and resentful at her for having abandoned him.

In broad outlines, the rest of the story is predictable -- yet another crusty adult whose heart is softened by the responsibility of caring for a child -- but there's just enough variation on the formula to keep it interesting. Most interesting is that while the relationship between Diane and Peter changes, with each becoming more accepting of the other and of their need to find a way to live together, the characters themselves don't change much. Diane is still brittle and reserved at the end of the movie; Peter is still a stubborn, difficult child.

The performances are all very good, but Monaghan is marvelous. It's a quiet, understated performance, and she communicates a lot with small facial expressions. If they gave me an Oscar ballot this year, she'd be on my Best Actress list.

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