The hardest job in the army isnít dodging bullets, or
hauling equipment through stifling heat, or driving a truck down a road
littered with strange lumps that might be a concealed bomb. Itís
something far more personal: Itís telling those left behind that their
son, daughter, brother or father isnít coming home.
Oren Movermanís debut feature film is a powerful study of
how human beings deal with this incredibly difficult task.
Ben Foster plays Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, who has
just found out he wonít be returning to the front line to serve with his
comrades. Instead he will become part of the ArmyĎs casualty
notification service, whose job it is to inform the next of kin of their
loved oneís death, before they have a chance to learn it from the media.
His supervisor is Captain Tony Stone, played superbly by Woody
Ben Fosterís character is a hard man, but heís been made
that way by the horrors heís seen in the war. His more human side only
comes on display later in the film, when he breaks the rigid rules set
down by Stone and tries to comfort a grieving mother and father, the
best way he can. Things become increasingly complicated when he is drawn
into a relationship with Olivia (Samantha Morton), who has just lost her
Stoneís frustration at having not seen any real
battlefield Ďactioní is obvious right from the start; he has a lot of
pent up emotional energy, and he releases this in less than productive
ways. At one point in the film he tells Montgomery that every funeral of
a soldier killed in action should be put on the news, so people become
used to it.
And we get the feeling that thatís what he himself has
done; desensitised himself to the shock and grief of his work.
All three leads are fantastic in their individual roles;
all are broken, realistic, fragile characters who we can relate to. For
me it was Harrelsonís performance that stole the show; his tough guy
attitude is only a front for the regret and frustration laying
underneath, and the rigid rules he has set in place for dealing with the
next of kin seems the only thing holding him together.
Also, keep an eye out for a moving performance by Steve
Buscemi as a bereaved father.
Video and Audio:
This movie was filmed in wide-screen format, for the
purposes of being able to include all the characters on screen during
the frantic Ďnotificationí scenes.
The image quality is clean and sharp, with vivid colours.
The musical soundtrack is left very sparse; there are
entire scenes without music, and then we are subjected to stabs of angry
grunge/rock when Foster is alone in his apartment. Itís all very
effective, and heightens the emotional impact of the film.
Going home: This behind the scenes
Featurette discusses the politics of the film, an in-depth analysis
of the lead characters, and the reasons behind the choices of
costumes and sets.
Notification: A documentary about the
notification process, featuring interviews with Army personnel as
well as real people who have lost loved ones serving overseas. Itís
gut-wrenching to watch, but itís a fascinating insight into a truly
Q&A with the cast and crew: A panel
interview with director Oren Moverman, stars Woody Harrelson and Ben
Foster, and co-writer Alessandro Camon.
As well as these features, there are the standard
theatrical trailer and commentary provided by the cast and crew.
The Messenger is a war movie set on the home front. Itís
difficult to watch, for the fact that it is emotionally unpredictable.
Each time Stone and Montgomery get out of their car and begin the walk
to another family memberís door, you dread what theyíre about to face-
whether that be abuse, or denial, or a complete physical breakdown. Itís
moving, shattering and compelling.
Expect great things from director Oren Moverman in the