While on a recent deployment to Iraq, US Army Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery is injured when an improvised explosive device goes off within close proximity to him. He is back in the States recovering from the more serious of those injuries, including one to his eye and leg. He has resumed a sexual relationship with his long time girlfriend Kelly, despite the fact that she is now engaged to another man who Will knows. With the few months Will has left in his enlistment, the army assigns him to the Casualty Notification Team in his area. Not having a background in counseling, psychology or grief management, he is unsure if he is well suited to this job. He is partnered with a career soldier, Captain Tony Stone, who teaches Will the precise protocol involved in the job. Tony tells Will, who quickly learns by on the job experience, that this job has its own dangers. As Will learns to adapt to the range of emotions of the next of kin, he is unprepared for the reaction of Olivia Pitterson, ... Written by
Director Oren Moverman had wanted to have a scene with Will and Tony singing a song but couldn't decide which song to sing, and settled on Home on the Range after hearing the song being played from an ice cream truck while scouting locations. This is then paid homage to after Will's first notification when he's sitting in Will's car and an ice cream truck passes by playing Home on the Range. See more »
When notifying Olivia of her husband's death, Captain Stone tells her, "You're listed as the NOK on your husband's forms." NOK is an acronym meaning "Next-of-Kin". Casualty Notification Officers are instructed not to use acronyms when making a notification, as the Next-of-Kin might not understand them. See more »
Captain Tony Stone:
Civilian life's for people who ain't seen shit. It's too late for you, you've already seen the shit, you can't unsee it anymore. You can't be an insurance salesman now, brother, it's too fukin' late.
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I saw The Messenger (as well as Oren Moverman and Ben Foster luckily) at the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival and can say sincerely that I was captivated and moved by it for the majority of its runtime. No matter what your background or stance on the war, you need not worry because it is not a movie that attempts to have an opinion, but merely one that captures a different kind of war- one between civilians and the military, between following procedure and following what you believe.
In his last three months of service, Officer Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), is assigned to be a messenger to next-of-kins who have died in Iraq alongside the elder Lieutenant Anthony Stone (Woody Harrelson). He struggles with being the bearer of bad news to heartbroken parents and wives, delivering the messages to people of all ages, ethnicities, and social classes. His work becomes compromised, however, when complications with his girlfriend arise and he becomes involved with one of the widows, challenging his ethical and moral considerations. He plays the younger, more vulnerable to Harrelson's gruff, uncompromising, and often cold ethic.
The film is, in a word, compassionate, as it is almost entirely character-driven. The chemistry between Foster and Harrelson is incredible, demonstrating talent beyond the range of what one would expect for both actors. I would be very surprised if either one of these two were not nominated for an Academy Award. The cinematography is also very unusual, filmed in long takes, letting scenes unfold, rather than wide/medium/close- up/reverse formula, and heavily based on improvisation.
All in all, The Messenger is a touching story about the differences we can make in others' lives simply by being the right person to break the news and having an open heart. It's a tribute to the men and women in arms without letting political differences get in the way. A story of the war at home shared alike by civilians and military, it's hard not to feel emotionally affected.
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