The first 20 minutes of ‘The Messenger’ should remind you of the power movies can have on anyone. It is very well acted, but a tough movie to watch. This film is not for most people, but if you can stomach it, it is worth the time and money to see. It’s not every day war movies are released and less so when they have to do with such a gut-twisting premise as this.
In his first leading role, Ben Foster stars as Will Montgomery, a U.S. Army officer who has just returned home from a tour in Iraq and is assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service. Partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers, Will faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking to find comfort and healing back on the home front. When he finds himself drawn to Olivia (Samantha Morton), to whom he has just delivered the news of her husband’s death, Will’s emotional detachment begins to dissolve and the film reveals itself as a surprising, humorous, moving and very human portrait of grief, friendship and survival.
Let me tell you why the film is good and worth the watch. The Messenger will jolt you emotionally, close to the way Precious does. It’s emotionally raw with situations that feel very real and unsettling. It’s brutal. You say “why do I want to see that?”, but it’s like watching a car wreck on the highway – you slow down to see the post carnage. It’s the macabre part in all of us. Once the story reels you in, the film hits you with excellent acting from Foster and Harrelson. They own the screen and you are absorbed by their lives, problems and thoughts. Just when you can’t take enough drama, Harrelson breaks the tension with off the cuff humor which reminds you that this is just a movie. However, the pacing is off and it feels choppy at times. It goes off into tangents sometimes the way a conversation with a friend might. You can reel him back in, but you can’t do that to a movie. Part of those tangents that didn’t work were the bizarre romantic scenes with Morton and Foster which just didn’t match the level and intensity of the rest of the film, then a wedding crash by the protagonists which seemed out of place.
Credit goes to first time Israeli director Oren Moverman and Italian co-writer Alessandro Camon for creating a script that effectively captures the tribulations of post war trauma and the complex scenarios they harbor within them.
You won’t find many films that shake you ardently the way this does. Even with some of its flaws, it was a satisfying piece of work that you can for sure be pleased with.