While recovering in his home town after a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq, US Army Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) continues his relationship with girlfriend Kelly (Jena Malone) even though she is seeing another man. When he's transferred to serve out his remaining enlistment term at the Casualty Notification Team, he is partnered with career soldier, Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), who teaches Will the precise protocol involved in the job. But he's still he is unprepared for the reaction of Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), whose husband was killed in Iraq.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
What I like most about The Messenger is its penetrating observations about human nature as revealed in the context of its story. On the surface, it's about the way a young American soldier comes face to face with the other side of battle - not where the bullets and roadside bombs go off, but where they reach their final destinations, in the hearts of those who lose their sons or husbands.
The story arc is unpredictable though, and sometimes the promised extension of the plotline is unrealised. There is a slack at times in the otherwise taut rope of the emotional tug of war that keeps us engaged, between Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) and Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). All of this is done to preserve the emotional intensity and honesty of the work.
The young Will has recovered from his physical wounds, but he's haunted by his experience - despite being declared a hero, he doesn't feel like one.
Tony, on the other hand, has never been shot at, even though he spent some time at the front. These deeper issues provide substance for the overlay story in which the two men are made partners in the awful task of quickly advising relatives of the death of a soldier in Iraq. Tony uses the protocol as a shield against the pain while Will finds his emotional connections to the survivors a raw and tangible bridge.
One such bridge is with Olivia, the widow of a soldier who senses his interest; Samantha Morton is real, vulnerable and effective as the widow, revealing a deeply touching background to what and how she feels. This lays the foundations of the fragile beginnings of their relationship, which has a long way to go even at the film's end.
Both the male leads are outstanding: Harrelson is superb as Tony Stone whose name implies a harder heart than he really has, and Foster gives Will a credible and interesting persona, showing all his flaws and strengths and his inner turmoil without overstatement.
Steve Buscemi has a small but memorable role as the father of a young soldier, showing that it's not the size of the role that matters but the scale of the actor.
The film doesn't tread a predictable, easy path, but stick with it because it has something to say and it is refreshingly different, mature and memorable.
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MESSENGER, THE (MA)
CAST: Ben Foster, Jena Malone, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Yaya DaCosta, Eamonn Walker, Portia, Lisa Joyce, Peter Francis James
PRODUCER: Mark Gordon, Lawrence Inglee, Zach Miller,
DIRECTOR: Oren Moverman
SCRIPT: Oren Moverman, Alessandro Camon
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bobby Bukowski
EDITOR: Alex Hall
MUSIC: Nathan Larson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Beatrice
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 11, 2010