Reel Society

Movie reviews to the latest movies, in theaters and on DVD.

The Messenger

The Messenger has now been in limited release for three weeks and there is hardly anyone talking about it. It’s a shame because this is one of the best films of the year.

Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) was injured in Iraq and came home with three months of service left on his tour.  He arrives and meets his former girlfriend Kelly (Jena Malone) who he had been friends with for most of his life. She got together with another man while he was serving. Will then finds out that for the next three months he will serve as a casualty notification officer.

He will be serving alongside Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and together they will notify people that their loved ones have been killed in action. I don’t think there can be a more difficult and stressful job out there. Due to the sensitivity and dangerous nature of the job there is protocol that must be followed and Tony explains to Will the importance of following these rules.

Among the protocol is that they can only notify during certain hours, they can only reveal the news to the one specific person they were ordered to, they have to knock first and only use the door bell if no one answers. Tony believes ringing a doorbell and hearing music might break their concentration and throw them off. I never thought about the details and intricacies that go into a job like this but it all made perfect sense as I watched the two men go about their routine.

Every visit they make is like a short story within the film. Each of these scenes are as intense as the next and we find ourselves intimately in the lives of people we just met on screen. One particular scene in which they visit Dale Martin (Steve Buscemi), the father of a son who was recently killed, is one my favorite scenes in a film this year. Buscemi creates an empathetic character in just a few minutes of screen time.

The acting is as good as it gets here. Ben Foster over the past few years has become someone whose movies I am always looking out for. You know he is someone that is always going to bring 110% to a role. He can display a range of emotion with just his eyes alone and at the same time he can get as crazed and violent on screen as anyone else working today. See Alpha Dog or 3:10 To Yuma to name a few of his finest performances.

Woody Harrelson surprisingly is still a much underrated actor at this point in his career. He makes great choices in the films he does and performs to high level consistently in them. His work in The Messenger is his best in recent years. People will remember his final scene with Foster but the moment that stood out for me was the look on his face as he watched Foster’s character break protocol in a supermarket.

 The Messenger is a compelling film that looks intimately at the lives of two soldiers who have had vastly different experiences at war but now find themselves as a team handling one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. The chemistry between Harrelson and Foster is so natural one would think they have been working together for years.

This film does not rely on a grand score, lavish costumes and set pieces or special effects to get its theme across. It is that much more effective in its simplicity and documentary style camerawork, much like my favorite film of last year The Wrestler.



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