The Messenger

It took a long time for them to make mainstream movies about the Vietnam war.  For some reason the national trauma of that war made our filmmakers reluctant to tackle the subject. It may be because there was a draft then and the pain of loss was more universal. That pain is no less real for people who lose loved ones in the current wars, but there are fewer of them.  I also think it has something to do with the fact that there is a much stronger independent film movement today than there was in the seventies. These things are invariably downers and major studios don’t like to gamble on films that may depress the audience.

At any rate there seems to be a rush to make films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been at least three this year alone. The Messenger deals with the practice of informing next of kin, or NOK in armyspeak of their loved one’s death. It’s tough duty, even for a combat veteran like Sergeant Will Montgomery, played by Ben Foster. Montgomery has been injured and is dealing with PTSD issues of his own. He has three months left in his hitch so they assign him to Casualty Notification duty. Training him is Captain Tony Stone, played by Woody Harrelson who been on this detail for a long time and knows the proper and best way to do it. He gives Montgomery a book detailing those rules. You go to the house; you talk only to the person listed; you stick to the script, “The Secretary of the Army has asked me to inform you…” and, most importantly you never get involved with the NOK’s. Don’t even touch them. This is where Montgomery runs into trouble.

War films about posttraumatic stress syndrome and death usually depend on the acting in this film.  Woody Harrelson stands out as Captain Stone, playing him as a tough but eccentric authority figure. It’s a role Harrelson can sink his teeth into and he shines here. In Ben Foster, however,  I think they hit the jackpot.  His baby face shows a whole world of pain and suffering that only he knows.  He plays the stoic soldier and toughs it out and of course he’s not going to ask for any help, but the pain is right there in his expressions.  It’s an exercise in restraint that many actors could benefit from watching. Samantha Morton gives a fine performance as a young widow who had fallen out of love with her husband a long while before she got the news of his death.  Morton is one of our best actresses.

Although worth seeing for the acting, The Messenger is not a perfect film. The plot meanders just a bit too much. Oren Moverman, the director, and Alessandro Camon wrote the screenplay. Obviously, their goal was to create a character study of  Will Montgomery. They succeed, I guess but if you’re not doing anything with the character, then what’s the point?  This film is merely a series of at most loosely connected events. They are skillfully rendered, to be sure. Many of the conf More it’s more of a psychological studies and an actual story many of the scenes or intense uncomfortable and you think it’s building something but it is never quite dogs even the main plot with Montgomery getting close to the widow he just told him never goes anywhere it’s worth seeing for the performances so even though it could have been a much better for


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February 2010
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