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
After countless inert and strangely uninvolving films that have been released over the last few years and have used the war on terror as a backdrop for their action ("Jarhead," "Rendition," "Stop-Loss," more I can't even recall at the moment), 2009 produced two films that finally feel plugged directly into the tone the war has taken in our culture -- one of wearying sadness.
One of those films was "The Hurt Locker," and the other is "The Messenger," Oren Moverman's somber and haunting story about a troubled soldier back from the front lines who's assigned the task of notifying people about the deaths of their loved ones in the conflict. I can't vouch for the accuracy of either film, but I can say that both communicate the same emotions I feel when I see or hear first-hand accounts about what's going on overseas. I'm not enraged or galvanized into either pro or con positions -- I'm simply depressed by the meandering, pointlessness of it all and the human waste.
The acting trio of Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, as Foster's instructor in how to be a harbinger of death and especially Samantha Morton, as the widow of one of the dead with whom Foster strikes up a romance of sorts, are formidable, and the film feels authentic in its settings and in the people who populate them. If you had to label the film one way or another, you would definitely have to come down on the side of anti-war. But it's really too resigned and matter-of-fact for that label to fit, and that's what I like about it. It almost seems to be saying that being anti-war is beside the point. Wars are always going to exist, and to be opposed to them is a waste of time. What's most troubling to think about are the innumerable number of lives that are going to be snuffed out because of them.
In a film filled with terrific scenes, the one that haunts me most is the one set in Morton's kitchen where she tells Foster about the relationship she shared with her dead husband. Filmed as one long take, the scene is mesmerizing, and Morton is so good I can't imagine how she managed to go overlooked at end-of-year awards time.
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