Friday, September 17, 2010

The Messenger

Directed by Oren Moverman.
2009. Rated R, 112 minutes.
Ben Foster
Woody Harrelson
Samantha Morton
Jena Malone
Steve Buscemi
Jahmir Duran-Abreau

Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Foster) has been sent home from the War in Iraq. Something I won’t spoil has left him with damage to one of his legs, one eye and presumably, his psyche. In a move that doesn’t seem like a good idea for a guy who seems fragile, he’s assigned to work with Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson) on a casualty notification team. In addition to his normal duties, he has to go with Cpt. Stone whenever needed to notify a soldier’s next of kin that their love one has been killed in defense of the country.

In keeping with a recent tren in war movies like The Hurt Locker and Jarhead, there is much less plot and much more slice of life. We see two guys working through a number of issues and develop a friendship. Among those issues is the mess of Will’s love life and Tony’s alcoholism, which both men seem to willfully complicate. However, there is no big rush to resolve something. There is no villain to be foiled, nor day to be saved. It’s just two guys. Still, these two guys worm their way into our hearts. We empathize deeply with them. We start to really understand them even though they hardly bother to explain themselves. Well, Will doesn’t. Tony likes to explain a lot of things.

What we love most about them is what we most hate: their job. We love them for doing it. We hate that it has to be done. It is intrinsically terrifying, perhaps almost as much as actually going to war. Though I’m a vet, I’ve never been to combat, so forgive me if I’m way off base, here. It just seems going into combat causes an anticipatory fear, but once you’re there, there is a chance you’ll live. After being in it for awhile, the fear doesn’t go away, but it subsides enough for you to focus on survival. With these guys, there’s no life or death involved in their current station in life. However, day after day they’re tasked with telling someone they will never see their child, husband or wife ever again. If you’ve ever had to break that news to someone, you know how difficult that is. Now imagine having to knock on a stranger’s door and do it every day.

The scenes of the men going about their business are masterful depictions of human drama. They’re simply gripping and like the rest of the movie, acted perfectly. Woody Harrelson deserved the nomination this role earned him for Best Supporting Actor. Ben Foster’s work has been largely overlooked, but is no less brilliant. Perhaps even more stunning than either of our two heroes is Samantha Morton’s work as a newly widowed mom. Her pain bleeds all over every scene but she’s never loud or showy about it. It’s a subtle performance that mirrors Foster’s. It may even be more poignant because she doesn’t have the military to look after her the way he does.

Don’t watch this if you’re looking for a traditional war movie. In fact, there is no war to be seen. There are only two guys. They are two guys you have to see.

The Opposite View: Noel Murray, The Onion (A.V. Club)

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on (9/17/10), 90% on, 78/100 on

MY SCORE: 9/10

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