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The Messenger (2009)

June 10, 2010

7/10 Calls of Duty

Too bad that this movie got so completely overlooked last year.

The Messenger is about an Iraq War vet who comes home after being injured in combat and gets paired up with a hard-nosed Desert Storm vet to serve out his last three months of service informing next of kin that their relatives died on the battlefield. Along the way, he strikes up a relationship of sorts with one of the widows he makes a home visit to, butts heads with his colleague about the moral consequences of doing so and tries to figure out how to live in a world that now seems completely foreign.

I’m actually kinda surprised it took so long for someone to write this script and make this movie. Anyone who’s watched Private Ryan’s mother faint on the porch when the military issue Model-T drove up to her house or, God forbid, have personally answered the door to two US soldiers and heard the news firsthand knows that this premise has a lot of emotional weight going for it. Lord knows I’d never want to be on the giving or receiving end of such a situation, but that’s the appeal, because someone has to do it, someone has to hear it and I for one can only imagine what it must be like for both parties.

So, yeah, things get pretty heavy pretty quick, but a big reason it works so well without becoming overdramatic is its stellar cast.

I gotta say, it was pretty freakin’ cool of the Academy to give Woody Harrelson a nod here for his turn as Desert Storm vet Cpt. Tony Stone. It’s very against-type for the guy, because I’m thinking more folks associate him with plugging hemp and smokin’ doobies on the beach with Matthew McConaughey than with his underappreciated and often forgotten performance as Larry Flynt, but he’s great, he’s convincing and it’s even further proof that the dude’s got range. Christoph Waltz still totally deserved it, but along with Zombieland, 2009 was a damn good year for Woody and it seems like people are finally starting to realize that he’s kinda the man. It’s about time.

And opposite Woody is Ben Foster as Iraq War vet Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery. Ever since he stole the show in 3:10 to Yuma, I’ve been on the Ben Foster bandwagon in a big ol’ way. The kid’s one of the best up-and-comers out there and, as expected, he’s mighty good here as well. Might get a little too emotional at times, but all in all, he fits the role quite nicely, does his thing quite well and doesn’t get overshadowed by Woody even if he didn’t get as much recognition for it.

Samantha Morton is also pretty awesome too as the second half of Ben’s suspect relationship. The gal’s a solid actress to begin with and she’s makes for a very genuine and subtle addition to the cast, just wish her character had a bigger part. Good stuff all the same.

Also features a racy little appearance by eternal child actress Jena Malone and a great bit role by Steve Buscemi as a grieving father, and he blows it out of the water.

And as far as the Oscar-nominated script by Alessandro Camon and director Oren Moverman is concerned, it’s pretty damn good. They do well to make sure the home visits and characters feel very believable and grounded without making turning it into “How can we keep one-upping ourselves with worst-case scenarios so that the audience is crying their brains out from first visit to the last?” And thank God for that, because things could have easily gone in that direction, like in Crash. It’s good ’cause they keep it about the characters instead of the drama – which comes naturally anyway – and as a result, it plays out gorgeously and it feels real.

For a good while there, this was a solid 8 that delivered in full on its potential and kept me glued to the screen with each new house they showed up to, but then the last half hour rolls around and, unfortunately, things start to get a bit muddled. The plot just gets unfocused after a certain point as Woody and Ben start hanging out more often and spend their weekends drinking their asses off in an unexpected display of male bonding, and that just goes on for too long, it seems out of place, it takes away from the whole and I was hoping that the story would be more about Ben and Samantha than Ben and Woody. Ben and Samantha was a great story line, I wanted more of that story line.

But that’s it. If it weren’t for that weekend getaway with Woody and Ben, this would have been an easy 8, but The Messenger is nonetheless a very easy movie to recommend. Great performances, a choice script and a powerhouse concept to work off of make for one of the more affecting war dramas I’ve seen in recent memory.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2010 12:21 am

    Ben Foster’s a seriously good actor. He could be a big star, if only he’d give more mainstream films a shot.

    • June 10, 2010 8:05 am

      Agreed, I didn’t see Pandorum, but I thought that was a pretty lame choice for a more mainstream movie. Dude’s got skills to pay the bills either way.

  2. June 10, 2010 6:47 am

    I really did like this film. It was just advertised as a film about this lonely war mother falling in love with this soldier, when that was only like the side story. Woody Harrelson (who I met), is just so good here, adding comedy to a role that could have been so seriously cheesy. Nice Review brah!

  3. June 10, 2010 10:42 am

    I have yet to see this but I definitely will because of Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster. If you enjoyed this, you might take a look at a made-for-HBO-movie called Taking Chance starring Kevin Bacon where he plays a Marine officer escorting back the body of a fallen Devil dog back to his hometown.

    • June 10, 2010 10:46 am

      I’ve heard a lot of good things about that movie, pretty sure it’s on Netflix Streaming too. Will definitely check it out, thanks for the reminder, man.

  4. June 10, 2010 12:18 pm

    I thought it was a solid movie with solid performances, yet it failed to really touch me.

  5. June 10, 2010 1:32 pm

    I liked the movie, but didn’t like Harrelson in it at all. I was amazed he got a nom for it.

  6. Branden permalink
    June 11, 2010 12:44 pm

    When I saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it was another Iraqi War movie. People starting praising it. I saw it and it was a solid film. Not great, but good. I thought Ben Foster got the shaft once again for his nuanced performance. This was his first leading role. I applaud him. Woody is always great. He nailed it.

    I didn’t like the relationship between Foster and Morton. I thought it was forced. I didn’t buy them together.

    Your gripe about the ending of the movie was why I didn’t fawn over this movie.

  7. June 11, 2010 5:36 pm

    The Messenger was a good film that went ignored for the most part except for original screenplay.

    I can’t wait to see where Moverman goes with the Kurt Cobain biography.

    • June 11, 2010 5:54 pm

      He’s doing that? Awesome! Never saw Last Days, heard it wasn’t so hot, it’s a high time Cobain got a good movie.


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