The Messenger - Movie Review


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The Messenger

If you've been on the job hunt recently, like I have, you've probably come to the realization that there are some truly terrible occupations out there. The Messenger focuses on one in particular, the occupation of two US Military men who have to deliver news of grief on a daily basis. Sure, that career might not have the same level of extreme intensity that the soldier depicted in The Hurt Locker had, but as even that film pointed out, there are some people out there that at least want that kind of job. In fact, they're practically born to do it.

Although I don't necessarily want to make comparisons between The Hurt Locker and The Messenger, they do share other similarities apart from being released in the same year. Both films are at times fairly episodic. Whereas The Hurt Locker took the viewer from one bomb to the next, The Messenger often makes it's own episodic journey from door to door. The news may always be the same, but here's the spoiler, no one reacts the same way twice.

These two messengers are Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster). Tony is older, colder, and altogether what you would expect out of a rugged ARMY man. He sticks to the rules on paper, which he must have highlighted in certain sections, especially the one about not touching civilians. Will is quiet and reserved, apart from the heavy metal music he blasts in his apartment at odd hours in the night, but guess which one of the two has seen more action on the battle field?

There are no bit parts in this movie. Every person is very much real, and they come from very real places. It's a credit to both the writing and the acting that everything is so authentic. Ben Foster treads a very controlled path in his performance that can deviate from a quiet reservation to a personal and public upheaval. He's the kind of actor who seems to steal the movie anywhere else, be it in 3:10 to Yuma, 30 Days Of Night, or even with a bit-part in the television series Freaks and Geeks. Here he's able to take a central character and give him true life. Woody Harrelson for that matter deserves the same praise for taking a character who in any other movie would be simply unlikable and giving him a sense of emotional frailty that is so tangible it hurts. The individuals they meet along the way, including a father played by Steve Buscemi, are equally as real and heart-wrenching as the central performers.

There are scenes here that require no fancy editing to achieve effect. All the viewer really does is listen to a story told by a man sitting in front of a muted television set, and as that story is told the images seem to appear all on their own. Other times the situational elements will carry a sense of intensity that plays out in an entirely unexpected fashion, be that a secondary confrontation with a heart-broken father, or even a drunken engagement toast.

This is the kind of film that is based upon quiet subtlety and honest observation. You won't be seeing any explosions or hear the familiar droning of Arabic music in the background, as seems the case with every film involving war or even just drama these days, but you will see the intensity of human bonds and emotions. It is excellently written, superbly directed, and features outstanding performances. For me, I would say it's the most affecting war film in the past several years. Yes, including the Hurt Locker. Not that it's a competition or anything. But hey, this is war we're talking about.

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