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The Messenger
Genre War
Year: 2009

The Messenger is a humanistic, character-driven war drama starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. The U.S. is still fighting with troops posted in Iraq. Casualties, body bags and wounded heroes are returning home after their tour of duty. One such man is Will Montgomery (Foster). He's drafted into the notification service while nursing an eye and leg injury, sustained while in the field.

He's deemed to be a war hero and is put under the command of Tony Stone (Harrelson) as an intern, learning how to address the N.O.K. (next of kin) in the event of their son, daughter, husband or wife's death. These "angels of death" have the arduous task of informing people of a death in the family. Their message is treated with mixed reactions ranging from severe bouts of grief to anger and violence. This until Montgomery becomes compassionate towards a woman (Morton), who takes the bad news about her husband without flinching...

The Messenger is not a typical war film. It all takes place on U.S. soil with army base uniforms and protocol referring to the wartime situation. There are some gut-wrenching moments as the soldiers deliver news to the secondary victims of war, which are met with varying degrees of grief. The film provides insight into the job, which at first glance seems fairly innocuous. The cold, matter-of-fact delivery... the pent-up frustration... the band-aid quick rip and the human emotion all contribute to gripping drama.

Foster, Harrelson and Morton's performances raise the bar. Foster gives a startling gravity and maturity to the role, which is lacking in many of his other performances. Also worth mentioning is the interesting decision to cast Foster with links back to his role in X-Men 3: The Last Stand  The Messenger shows he can carry the lead, while ably backed by Harrelson and Morton. Harrelson's Oscar-nominated supporting role is heartfelt and genuine, giving a glimpse into the recovering alcoholic's attitude to life. Samantha Morton plays the widower with a cold, calculated grace in yet another fine turn.

The film's low budget is cleverly disguised with an affinity for medium close-ups, forcing the audience into each character's personal space, drawing them into the story and giving one a chance to focus on performance and dialogue. There's a minimalistic touch to the style of The Messenger as writer-director Oren Moverman, closes in on the actors. This is not about form, location and things... this is about people. A crisp bite of comedy interrupts the intensity of the drama, but is simply a buffer, adding an everyday reality to the film.

The slice-of-life narrative will not appeal to everyone. The plot revolves around the main character's transition as he comes back from the inhuman environment of war to immerse himself in full-bodied humanity. The ethical dilemma of befriending a widower is dealt with at some length, but The Messenger is more about individual life struggles of the heart than a forbidden romance or the horrors of war, making it a human drama above all else.

The bottom line: Heartfelt.

7.00/10 ( 1 Vote )
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