All of a sudden, I want to play catch.

Golden Mug

Actress (Michelle Monaghan)

Theatrical Release Date: 10/9/2009
Director: James Mottern
Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Jimmy Bennett, Nathan Fillion, Benjamin Bratt, Joey Lauren Adams, Mika Boorem

First rate female roles have been few and far between this year. Maybe things will pick up as awards season begins shortly but for now, it appears Michelle Monaghan’s excellent turn in “Trucker” will have to set the pace for now.

First time writer/director James Mottern is at the helm of this vehicle (okay, I’m done with the puns) and the film centers on Diane Ford (Monaghan), a female trucker hell bent on doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and wrapping herself in the solitary blanket that her job provides. All that changes when the 11 year-old son she’d left to be raised by his Dad comes calling. What follows is a frank and unflinching look at how a woman who’s spent most of her life playing by her own rules and only looking out for number one comes to long for more in her life and the struggle to make that happen.

There’s nowhere else to start than by praising Monaghan for delivering the performance of her career. After largely being relegated to supporting roles, she nails this starring role and proves that she’s capable of carrying a film all on her own. While her beauty might make the job seem more difficult (seriously, why couldn’t I have met a trucker like her all those times I drove across the country), Mottern and Monaghan manage to make it an advantage and a flaw all at the same time. It clearly makes it easy to get men to do what she wants but it also makes her a target.

She nicely balances her character’s need to self-destruct with the burgeoning maternal instincts her son’s arrival sparks. What’s nice is that the script and her performance ease into this process, peeling away her tough exterior like onion layers, but only in regards to the people in her life that she cares about.

Aiding Monaghan is a surprisingly good effort from Jimmy Bennett, who plays her son. Child actors can be hit or miss and often fall either into the precocious or wooden categories. Bennett feels genuine and delivers the kind of emotional swings one would expect from someone his age placed in the situations Mottern has dreamed up. The script also does a great job of mirroring many of Monaghan’s less than pleasant character traits in Bennett.

Along the way, Nathan Fillion, Benjamin Bratt and Joey Lauren Adams fill in nicely as supporting characters. Fillion especially helps to present another side to Monaghan. Their relationship is equally messy and healthy, comic and tragic. If this were a traditional romantic piece, it’s clear that they’ve got the missing pieces in each other’s puzzles. Thankfully, that’s not the case and things are a bit more ambiguous and left up to the audience to decide, another strong point of Mottern’s script.

Along with that script, Mottern’s direction deserves some praise. His use of natural light (probably a budgetary concern but nonetheless) pays off, especially amid the driving scenes that help to set the tone for Monaghan’s solitary nature. He allows the scenes to play out, which while it can create a bit of a slow down effect (especially in the middle of the film), also lets the actors explore their characters a little more than the traditional fare that gets crammed down our eye sockets on a more regular basis. And considering this is Mottern’s first feature effort, I look forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future.

“Trucker” may not be for everyone, as its sweetness and heart is often masked by bitterness and pain. However, if you are a fan of more challenging and realistic fare, I can’t recommend this highly enough and award it a 4.5 out of 5. Had the mid-section of the film not gotten mildly bogged down in its pacing, I could see maybe nudging this up that extra bit but don’t let that deter you. This is easily one of the 10 best of the year and I look forward to seeing if other films can excel enough to knock this out.