An Indie spirited look at the aftermath of war, which excels thanks to three powerful performances.
An Indie spirited look at the aftermath of war, which
excels thanks to three powerful performances.
The saying goes
“Don’t shoot the messenger” they are simply the bearer of bad news, not the
cause of it. Delivering bad news is a tactical subtlety, it has to be done just
so, delicately yet with condolence. In the world of The Messenger though there
are rules, strict military ones that must be adhered to for fear of upsetting
an already toppled apple cart.
Will Montgomery (Foster) is an American GI fresh off the
battlefields of Iraq. Dispatched home with minor wounds he finds himself
pent-up and unsure of where life is taking him. Then a new assignment puts life
into perspective. Joining the Casualty Notification Team, Will sees another
side to war, a side that brings with it trauma of a kind he is not equipped to
deal with which entails breaking the death of a solider to their next of kin.
Thankfully his new superior office Captain Tony Stone (Harrleson) is on hand to lend a guiding hand.
surprising thing about The Messenger is that is it not more widely heard of.
For one thing Woody Harrleson received a much warranted Best Supporting Oscar
nomination at this year’s Oscars but for another it is a powerful film that
demands infinitely more fans than it will have acquired to date.
Imagine if you
will an independent sequel to Oscar darling The Hurt Locker, a film that
investigates war when those used to fighting it have no enemy left to confront.
The demons become inner rather than the outer ones carrying guns. These demons
plague the mind, forcing Will to escape into a world of death metal and
stomping around his shabbily decorated flat. He is then instructed to remain
emotionless when delivering the hardest message of all, that someone’s loved
one has been killed in action.
It is essentially
a buddy movie between Will and Tony. One an emotional wreck, struggling to come
to terms with his new lot in life, the other a recovering alcoholic who sees
his job as just that, a mission that must be accomplished adhering to the
strict rules set out for him. Tony informs Will he must not touch the bereaved.
They are not there to console simply to inform. But the reality is that while
these men are trained to be emotionless killing machines in the field of battle
it is another dilemma altogether when your goal is to break such devastating
For Will it often
demands too much. Being an ‘Angel Of Death’ knocking on people’s doors and
watching as they all break-down in various guises of grief. Before long Will
finds himself drawn to the wife of one of the killed soldiers. Soon his resolve
to not ‘be giving any hugs’ is broken, he witnesses a side he had not counted
on and questions the morals of the job he is asked to perform.
Director Oren Moverman, a former Israeli
solider, handles the drama with a deft touch. Never does he feel the need to
force the emotion, instead allowing it to flow naturally without imbuing you to
fall on either side of the military debate. Moverman’s narrative and direction
are strongest in the opening half as Will is forced to perform his harrowing
role, each notification bringing with it a stark new lesson. The second half
may peter out but Moverman invests enough time in Will and Tony to make you
care implicitly about their welfare.
it is the performances that make The Messenger a must see film. Foster has long
promised much but found himself type-cast as the go-to evil henchmen of films
like 3:10 To Yuma and 30 Days Of Night. Here he brings a reserved dignity to
the role of Will. Never allowing the broken soul inside to play anything other
than a dalliance in his eyes. Samantha
Morton is ever dependable as the wife Will falls for, her innocent
wide-eyed gaze has become a trademark and here utilizes it to good effect.
However, the film belongs to the Oscar nominated former barman of Cheers. Woody
Harrelson is an actor all too easy to dismiss, but once again he rises above
his former jovial self to give a darkly comedic performance. A kind of
relentless drill sergeant who is just waiting to ditch the uniform and find a
girl to strap on and ‘wear like a government agent gas mask’. All cool and
collected on the outside Tony is damaged goods beneath the surface, an
ex-alcoholic three times divorced time bomb just waiting to explode. In
Harrelson’s hands the part sizzles and bangs in just the right way as to make
you see Tony as a role model with flaws all of his own.
delves deep into the psychology of soldiers, of families back home and of
dealing with trauma in the various forms life chooses to throw it at us.
Powerful and evocative this is one message you should check.