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Brilliantly acted film depicting two soldiers whose job it is to inform families when loved ones are killed in battle. Harrelson has never been better and Foster more than matches him all the way. It's emotional and engaging and genuinely painful at times. I had always thought how hard it must be to carry out such a job but had never really considered just what psychologically damage it could do long term to the person doing it. Harrelson depicts a man who has been doing the job far too long brilliantly and Foster in turn shows just what it can do to you initially. It's a perfect blend and the chemistry is excellent from start to finish. Deserves a much wider release and is with out doubt one of the best films of last year.
The Messenger has incredible acting by Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, and
The film has a curious flow to it. It begins predictable, yet remains engaging, exposing a heart-breaking consequence of war no family wants to face. Although the news remains the same, emotions run just as deep at each door. Every scene is handled marvelously through subtle performances by the actors. As the film unfolds, the viewer sinks into the complex characters on screen, discomforted by the internal struggles that slowly surface.
The Messenger is a non-linear, character-driven film with exceptional performances but might not be for everyone.
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.
I was fortunate enough to see this at the recent NY Drama Critics showcase, where both the director (Mr. Moverman) and a co-star (Woody Harrelson) participated in after-show Q&A. First of all, the film is superb - but the summaries I've seen so far do not do justice to what the movie is really about. Sure there are ethical dilemmas, sure there are soldiers who have returned from Iraq. But the great strength of this film is its focus on individual human beings and their reaction to humans' most important concerns: life, death and love. Oren Moverman - accomplishing this so beautifully, accurately and subtly in a small-budget film - is to be congratulated. Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Samantha Morton are all magically on the same wavelength in their performances. And the writing (by Camon and Moverman) acknowledges the fact that reasonably intelligent people might be watching... people who don't need every little detail spelled out. Oh yes - I should mention that there's a lot of humor interspersed throughout. The result of all this? The people you meet in this film will stay with you for a very long time - and you'll be glad for that.
I will not reiterate the plot of The Messenger; it has been done
exhaustively already. The relevant facts, to me, are: This movie is a
work of art in which the intentions of the director, writer,
cinematographer and actors are all united. The actors, especially leads
Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton, give subtle, nuanced
performances. The plot is not cookie-cutter; you cannot guess what is
going to happen at every turn. It is serious at its core but is not
devoid of humor.
Lately, I have been happier with the older movies I see on cable than the movies showing in theaters. This is the exception.
THE MESSENGER is by far and away one of the best works of art that
addresses the deep tragedy behind the current U.S. war in the Middle
East that I've seen. THE MESSENGER is an attempt by Director Oren
Moverman and screen writer Alessandro Camon to place themselves between
the ears of two career soldiers who serve a vital place in U.S. Army
Special Services, Casualty Notification teams who inform the families
of soldiers that their family member has been killed in battle. As
someone who remembers full well the devastating feeling you got in your
insides when you saw these teams turn up at the quarters of friends and
their families when my own father was serving in Vietnam in the late
1960s, I found the film an important effort.
Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is a Iraqi war veteran recovering from a battlefield wound who is reassigned to a State Department and United States Army Casualty Notification team, which is led by Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). Montgomery is also facing an impending breakup with his girlfriend Kelly (Jena Malone), who is playing him off against a wealthy, established suitor. When he is assigned to Stone's team, he is at first resentful. The military decorum which is demanded of the Casualty Notification Team is very exacting, with learned routines that come from a spit and polish military professionalism that requires a distance that is extremely difficult to attain.
What follows is a series of well connected vignettes, in which the younger soldier is asked to stride this nether world between the jaundiced, dry-drunk outlook of the seasoned bearer of bad news, Captain Stone. Stone is a bitter man with some frustrated ambitions of his own, which are revealed late in the film. Obsessed with sexual victories and teeter tottering between professional sobriety and complete emotional collapse, Stone is far from a steady colleague mentor. Encounters between he and Montgomery go into emotional roller coaster as each man learns to accept the other on his own terms while acting out an extremely trying professional military role.
In short time, Montgomery comes into contact with the widow of a soldier who sparks his interest, and becomes torn between professionalism and attraction to the young widow Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton). Montgomery is forced to grow into himself, despite his outward cynicism, and in short time begins to mentor his mentor, Captain Stone. The story has an open ending, with Montgomery seeking to be part of the life of widow Olivia as she is seeking to reestablish herself in New Orleans. No morals are offered, and this is the true strength of the work as a whole. There isn't much humor to be found here, but watch for the scene where a bender fried Montgomery and Stone attend the wedding reception of the woman who has broken Montgomery's heart. The lampoon of upper middle class phoniness is priceless.
The beauty of THE MESSENGER is that it does not fall into the usual pro war or antiwar camps that film making in an era like our own are usually so encumbered with. The film makers are ambitious and restrained. I have no idea whether the plot line is itself "contrived" as some here have argued, which I have to say is a rather ridiculous critique given that movies are rarely anything but "contrived", and this is particularly true of the genre we call the war film. Some who have written here seem to believe that the film discredits the "professionalism" of those who do the work of Stone and Montgomery, as though "professionalism" were itself some sort of fetish that protects one from emotional or mental illness generated by both war time trauma and the mystique of military culture. Such are the times in which we live, ideological blather is rampant.
THE MESSENGER is important because, in the words of that great Vietnam war era politician, the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson, it is art, it shows us who we are, not who we say we are, not who we think we are, but who we are as a people, and as a political culture. At various moments, it is clunky. But it is an early effort to give some true definition about what the debacle in Iraq has done to our culture, and to the people who are expected to do the dirty work of the empire's war machine. It is a rare gem in mainstream contemporary U.S. film making.
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.
I'm normally pretty hesitant about watching movies that have to do with
war, but I'm glad that I chose to watch The Messenger. The movie took a
completely different stance than what I'm used to when watching a movie
about war. I never really thought about the people that had to deliver
the message about a loved one that died in the military, and the way
the story is told made me really care for the characters and feel for
Harrelson's and Foster's characters and the important job that they
have to perform. I would never want to have to do their job, but I
truly respect the people that have to perform that job on a daily
Harrelson, Foster and Samantha Morton put on really powerful performances that I honestly believed. And the rest of the cast did a fine job, as well. The emotion was so intense that I could feel it, and I easily got sucked into the story. It was a powerful movie that really made me think about the hardships in a sincere and thoughtful way. Overall, I enjoyed the film and I will continue recommending it to all my friends because I think everybody should watch it at least once. The story sticks with you long after you finish watching the movie.
The Messenger is being overshadowed by other war films like The Hurt Locker, yet it is different and a great film. It has a very slow pace, but it has some incredibly powerful scenes and some amazing acting. Woody Harrelson is getting Oscar buzz for his performance, and he does deserve it. He has had a great year, with this and Zombieland. As great as he was, though, Ben Foster is just as great. Samantha Morton is probably better than both because she possesses a subtle and powerful gesture that only she has. I have only seen her in one other film, Synecdoche, New York, and she plays completely different types of personalities in both. Here, she is very quiet, but she is able to portray the reason why Foster's character is intrigued by her. The job that Stone and Montgomery (Foster and Harrelson) have is very difficult to do, and this is the first film to portray a job like that that I have seen. The director and writer did a great job. One of the flaws is that by the ending the film has no real directional focus, and this is a flaw in the screenplay. However, still a great film that should be seen not just for Harrelson but for the entire cast. Don't let the subject matter turn you away
Another gloomy drama depicting what life is like when back home in wartime; this movie features some really great acting performances and a subject that resonates every time very powerfully. The plot hasn't been developed too much, as the story feels more focused on the characters, on their moody and attitudes/emotions. It's about a remarkable direction relying very much on the introspective work of the lead actors. Ben Foster is terrific as a man permanently on the edge, Woody Harrelson excellent as well as one who's crossed the edge already. Impressive is also the approach to heroism, without ever simplifying it and with a strong attention to the story-telling detail. And even though the plot takes a couple of contrived turns, there's a subtle, observant film-making about what's going on inside the characters for a change.
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