Trucker starts off with a clever reversal of a familiar scene: two lovers in a roadside motel part ways after rigorous, anonymous sex, one asking when they can see each other again, the other brusquely walking away. The twist: Diane Ford (Michelle Monaghan) is the one leaving a poor love-struck local man behind. Diane’s not cold, she just knows How Things Work: she has a date, time and destination where she needs to be to get paid, and that’s all she knows. Diane is an independent truck driver who’s just recently paid off her rig, and when she’s not making multiple runs across country, she’s taking comfort in the awkward friendship she maintains with Runner (Nathan Fillion), who doesn’t let his marriage get in the way of Seventies Dance Night at the VFW.
And the movie gods ordain: into such firmly-patterned character behavior, a disruption shall be introduced. Diane’s ex, Len (the seemingly ageless Benjamin Bratt) sends their son Peter (Jimmy Bennett) to stay with her while he is in the hospital. Singularly focused on her work, Diane is more than a little outside her comfort zone acting as parent to a 13-year-old she doesn’t really know.
While Trucker‘s dialogue sometimes rings false, writer/director James Mottern has created a number of quiet, effective scenes that work wonders: Runner and Peter chat like newly cautious friends over breakfast burritos; Peter and Diane squat in a field, disagreeing about how to move forward. Mottern makes the most of people who don’t have much to say to each other, but make solid connections that build over the course of the story. It’s touching and sometimes, heartbreaking: when Len must spell out his condition to Peter, it’s crushing for both of them.
Monaghan gets the opportunity to strut her stuff dramatically as the hard, aloof Diane. She comes off as lean and tough but softens just enough to let you know she’s got a heart, without the usual 180-degree character swap that a less subtle film would employ . Fillion again shows how well he plays the aw-shucks nice guy, though you get the feeling we’re just seeing him play Nathan Fillion. But Jimmy Bennett is the real find: a child actor who effortlessly handles the emotional payoffs, ranging from rebellious to inconsolable, as effectively as the adults.
Trucker ends with a rather contrived, if frequently foreshadowed act, but it seems intent on quickly wrapping up all remaining loose ends rather than run out of gas. Overall, the film is a winning experience and deserves more attention than it saw in its brief theatrical run last year.
(Trucker is currently available on DVD and Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” service, which can be viewed via an XBOX 360.)