Monday, January 18, 2010
The Messenger (2009)
The Messenger treads a noteworthy path. It is a slice-of-life film, focusing on essentially three characters in everyday America, yet is about a lot more than it shows. It brings a global conflict to our door-step and down to a personal level. Although it is about grief, the movie is not heavy-laden with the emotion itself. This becomes the movie's biggest accomplishment.
Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) has three months left in active duty after mostly recovering from an injury on-field in Iraq. To complete service, he is assigned to the army's Casualty Notification Service under seasoned notifier Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). Stone follows the rule-book: arrive at the next-of-kin's as soon as news of the soldier’s death is received; inform the family in a rehearsed precise and concise manner; leave. No compassion or explanation is to be offered. While Montgomery initially follows the rule book, his experiences with heart-broken parents and spouses eventually move him to be benevolent. He eventually befriends a grieving widow, taking it to the point of a budding romantic relationship.
The characters of Montgomery and Stone are interestingly different. While Montgomery has seen combat up-close and is even a decorated war-hero, Stone never went to the war-zone. Yet, it is Stone who takes on an apathetic mannerism in his somber work, while Montgomery sees a need for compassion. What they do share is loneliness. The Messenger looks at these two people intimately, preferring to explore the sorrow and solitude of these two characters instead of the grieving relatives that they bring tragic news to. Montgomery’s pre-service girl-friend (Jena Malone) did not wait for him, and is getting married. She does not want Montgomery to attend. Stone is a recovering alcoholic. So while Montgomery finds comfort in the company of an army widow (Samantha Morton), Stone finds comfort in the company his new aide. In one powerful scene, Montgomery narrates to Stone the incident that got him his medal. Afterwards when left alone in the room, Stone breaks down crying in what becomes the crescendo of a wonderful and heartfelt performance by Harrelson. Samantha Morton’s widow character goes through her period of doubt and uncertainty, unsure of the possibility of a relationship with Montgomery. Ben Foster, in a restrained seething performance himself, portrays Montgomery as a suffering hero. By concentrating on such intimate characters, director Moverman enlightens the plight of the veiled victims of war – the survivors, soldiers and civilians alike.
Do not look for melodramatic exposition here, there is none. The Messenger is a war-movie that does not show us a war, or its horrors. It instead shows the perceptive effect of death and loss on the loved ones, the detachment that awaits returning soldiers and the sense of worthlessness in soldiers who did not fight. It brings the futility of war to its endpoint.
My rating --> 4 of 5