The Messenger (2009)

The Messenger has been a lot of awards contention for Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton lately. I first heard about this film from Michael Vox at the Cinebanter podcast a couple of months back. I saw the trailer for the movie and I was unimpressed with it. It seemed like another Iraqi war movie. There have been dozens of them that have not be successful. I gave this movie a chance and it paid off. It’s a good movie with some great performances to boot.

In his first leading role, Ben Foster plays Army  Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, an injured Iraqi war vet that returns stateside. He was hit with an IED that damaged his left eye and leg. With three months left on his enlistment, he is called to the office of Colonel Stuart Dorsett (Eamonn Walker) that assigns Will to the Casualty Notification Team.  A part of the military that notifies the next of kin about the death of a soldier on the battlefield. Will doesn’t want to do the job and he is frustrated about it.

Will is assigned to tag along with Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson) who will show him the ropes on what to do, and what not to do deliver the bad news to the next kin. Stone schools him about reading a guidebook; memorize a script by filling in the blanks with the correct family’s name, address, how the soldier died, etc. They have to be the first notify the next of kin within 24 hours of positive ID. Will has to wear a beeper on his person 24/7 so they could ahead of the vultures; press, soldiers with cellphones and webcams. Lots of what not to do like say “passed away”, “expired” or any physical contact with the people they contact.

There is a methodology to it. They have to park a block away and  walk to the residence. If the next of kin is not home, they have to leave and come back later. Will’s first CN assignment didn’t follow correct protocol when they encountered the pregnant girlfriend of a fallen solider, Monica Washington (Yaya DaCosta). The regulations go out the windows when the mother is out of the house. They wait in the living room. They listen to story about them getting married and her father lost his job. Until, Mrs. Burrell (Portia) comes in. From the family’s reaction, you know that this movie is not going be happy-go-lucky. It’s raw. It’s real.

Stone and Montgomery say the words like an automaton. Slowly after every notification, telling these people that their children have been killed eats away at their souls. They cannot sleep. They slowly break down from the inside out.

On another notification, the normal of having the next of kin yell, scream, cry, slap or spit at them is thrown of the window. When they notify Olivia Pittersen (Samantha Morton) about her husband’s death, she is calm. Olivia knows that they were going to deliver bad news. She keeps her composure throughout their canned notification speech.  She unintentionally breaks the rules by shaking their hands. They are taken aback.

After they rare encounter, Will watches Olivia’s family from afar in stalkerish kind of way until she has a blow up in a local mall when recruiters try to enlist a couple of teenagers. Will defuses the situation. She tries to push him away, but he keeps coming back. He has an odd fascination to protect this struggling family, because he doesn’t have one of his own. He becomes the surrogate dad. The more that Will delivers the bad news to so many military families, he starts to rebel about being the stoic soldier that doesn’t feel sympathy for the next of kin and what they are going through. That doesn’t sit well with Captain Stone.

As I said earlier, I thought the performances the three main characters were very good. The story as a whole was typical. I didn’t get way Will has a strong connection with Olivia. I didn’t understand. Why her? Why this woman? There is also something about the relationship between Will and his ex-girlfriend, Kelly (Jena Malone) that I didn’t get. He was keen to push her away, but she is about to move on with her life, he comes back. Why?

Judgment: The trio of strong acting performances elevate this movie into a must-see.

Rating: ****

About Branden

Branden: I am just your average movie nut that reviews films. Gives his take on pop culture and Hollywood happenings. Dreams to have his own thriving website and make a living doing what he is passionate about.

Posted on January 7, 2010, in 2009, Academy Award Nominee, Drama, Independent and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. mcarteratthemovies

    I didn’t catch this one, but I will for one reason: Ben Foster, who rivals Ryan Gosling and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in terms of raw talent beyond his young years. He was terrifying in “Alpha Dog” and riveting in “3:10 to Yuma,” and I plan to keep following what’s sure to be a long, accomplished career.

    • He is very intense in this movie as well Morton and Harrelson. The movie is playing sporadically in a couple of cities. I’m glad I caught it before it left the Angelika here in town.

  1. Pingback: News Alert » Blog Archive » The Messenger (2009) « Foolish Blatherings

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