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Keep on Trucking With Son in Tow

Trucker (2009)

Kevin Estrada/Trucker Productions

Set against the vast expanse of the American West, James Mottern’s “Trucker” tells the story of a lone wolf who’s an archetype in every way but these: She’s a woman and a mother. As played by Michelle Monaghan, Diane is as hard-nosed and rugged as the California dessert she inhabits, prone to spending weeks on the road driving her truck, aggressive random sexual encounters and some serious drinking.

The picture, which resists the pull of easy catharsis and obvious emotion, depicts the ways her personality modifies when circumstances find her caring for the adolescent son Peter (Jimmy Bennett) she abandoned more than a decade ago. The story of the reformation of a mother-son bond has been told many times before, while the relationship traverses the predictable range from mutual disgust and unease to powerful love.

Yet the nuances stand out in Mr. Mottern’s telling. To convey the fraught emotion, he relies less on heavy dialogue than reaction shots in which body language and facial expressions help Ms. Monaghan and Mr. Bennett present their deepest, unexpressed feelings. The actors make a convincing tandem, with their characters sharing a propensity for foul language and aggressive behavior. Yet, their collective rage never feels forced. Instead, it comes from an honest place colored by the vulnerability spurred by years of rejection. The actors understand the key to playing angry characters and having that anger mean something: It’s not about what you say, but how you say it.

The movie steadfastly avoids histrionics, opting instead for the quieter truths of a mother caring for her son, much to her surprise and in the only way she knows how. It takes place in the long shadows, dimmed lights and dusty roads of a setting that befits a story centered on such isolation and amplifies the impact of the close bond that develops between Diane and Peter. “Trucker” is a movie for audiences that value a particular strain of subtle naturalism that one rarely sees on the big screen anymore, a nostalgic rehashing of the days when movies didn’t need to telegraph every last detail.


Opens on Oct. 9 in New York and on Oct. 16 in Los Angeles.

Written and directed by James Mottern; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Deirdre Slevin; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Cabot McMullen; produced by Celine Rattray, Galt Niederhoffer, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Scott Hanson; released by Monterey Media. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Michelle Monaghan (Diane Ford), Nathan Fillion (Runner), Benjamin Bratt (Len Bonner), Joey Lauren Adams (Jenny Bell) and Jimmy Bennett (Peter).


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