Theatrical Review: THE MESSENGER
Writers: Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman
Director: Oren Moverman
Cast: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Samantha Morton
Studio: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Being assigned to alert the next of kin when a solider dies in the war is one of the most difficult duties one could possibly undertake on a daily basis. Every day, you get up and know you are going to destroy a big piece of someone's world. No matter how much you insist to yourself that it is just your job or assigned task and to not get attached, you are always aware that you are about to give a person some of the worst news of their life.
Most people have parts of their job that annoy them, but when it is closing time you can still go home and disconnect from your job. It is hard to imagine someone with this particular duty being able to divorce themselves so easily from their work. The fact that people do this task is commendable. Oren Moverman's THE MESSENGER is largely a respectful tribute to those who have the responsibility of telling another human person that they will never see someone they love again.
The main character of THE MESSENGER is Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), a solider back from the war who is still suffering from the injuries encountered during his duty. Soon, Will is called into one of his superiors' offices and learns that, along with his usual tasks on the base, he will be assisting Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) with telling the next of kin when a soldier has died. It is clear this is not a request, so just like that, Will has been given one of the more emotionally taxing jobs in the world.
Soon, Tony and Will have lunch, and Tony tells him the guidelines, which is essentially the key ways to avoid getting derailed by the emotions of the situation. Tony is quick to remind Will throughout the film that they are just there to do a job, and they are not to get involved, but that is 87 million times easier said than done.
The film shows us several encounters between Tony and Will and those the men have to give the awful news to. And this is precisely where the crying will probably come in to play for many who watch THE MESSENGER. These scenes are set up and executed with a crushingly realistic feel. There are not a lot of cuts, and each scene tends to be delivered with an uncomfortable believability; they usually don't end clean, like many confrontations in life.
In one exchange, a father (Steve Buscemi), who is alerted that his son has been killed, follows Tony and Will to their car, screaming and spitting at them. The heartbroken man loses it on these two men who are just trying to do their job, but at the same time, it's hard to get angry with the father because he just found out his son has died. As you sit there and watch this unfold, you will no doubt become saddened by this scene that probably resembles an occurrence that often happens every day, somewhere in the world. This is heavy stuff, and it is done very well in THE MESSENGER.
THE MESSENGER also works as the story of a man trying to decide where to go next with his life. Will is at a critical point in his life when the film starts. His contract with the army is almost up, his long-time friend and past girlfriend is about to get married, and he has to deal with his nagging and possibly debilitating war injuries. The task that Will comes to be saddled with, and the people it brings into his his life, have a major impact on the decisions Will eventually makes about his future. Everybody has a story behind how their life ended up as it did, as far as a career and relationships go, and this is Will's. Thankfully, the story of Will is as thoughtfully created and executed as the scenes of Tony and Will doing their job.
With careful construction, THE MESSENGER brings to attention one of the more challenging jobs that could ever be asked of a person, while also giving us an engaging look at a young man trying to figure important shit out, like "what now"?
This review has been changed since originally being published.