Green has made an endearingly curious series of movies -- George Washington, Pineapple Express, Prince Avalanche -- whose only through line is a refusal to do what you would expect. Here, he strips the inspirational weepie of sentiment and sensation.
A lack of sentiment doesn't mean a lack of feeling, of course: A scene of doctors peeling away Bauman's gauze, shot from the side of Gyllenhaal's face but looking down at what's left of Bauman's legs, plays out movingly, slowly, as Bauman fights off his screams. Just when Bauman -- and maybe audiences -- can't take anymore, a new face edges into the frame, filling a void. It's Erin (Tatiana Maslany), his erstwhile girlfriend, tenderly talking him through it.
Gyllenhaal and Maslany will share several tense, troubling scenes over the film's two hours, as Erin moves in with Bauman and his hard-drinking mother and tries to help manage a PTSD that none of them understand. It's hard to reconcile the power of these moments with the bungled sequences of Bauman's fractious extended family, which veer into sneering caricature.