Pros: good acting by Harrelson & Foster, story, DVD extras
Cons: none for me
The Bottom Line: "got a letter from a messenger i read it when it came it said that you were wounded" ~The Tea Party
I recently had the pleasure of viewing The Messenger, directed by Oren Moverman who also co-wrote with Alessandro Camon. It is rated R for language, sexual content, and nudity and nominated for 26 awards, winning sixteen.
The story: This is a war movie that doesn't show war but its aftermath. We are dealing, for the most part, with two characters - Captain Tony Stone and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery. They are part of the service that no one wants to serve, Casualty Notification Officers. It is their duty, and their goal, to notify the next of kin when a soldier is killed in the war. Their hours are long and lonely; their presence is never welcomed.
Stone is an old dog, spent most of his life as a career soldier. It is his job to teach Montgomery, who has recently returned from active duty where he was injured. Montgomery has just a few months left to serve and is assigned to accompany Stone when notifying of a soldiers death. He also just broke it off with his girlfriend, who had basically moved on without him anyway.
Their job enters the lives of the survivors in an intimate and personal way, while they have to remain disassociated from them. This depersonalization they must assume affects them on the deepest level but they can never convey that while they deliver the news. They must never get involved, not even touch a survivor, unless they view them in imminent peril.
Their assignment isn't easy.
The actors: Woody Harrelson did an outstanding job as Tony Stone. He seemed aloof, removed, yet broken. He wore the uniform in the movie with a manner of pride and respect and portrayed an aura of dignity to the position he held.
Ben Foster played the part of Will Montgomery, a solitary soldier trying to complete his time in service. His apartment reflected his life; bleak and sterile.
Samantha Morton played the part of Olivia Pitterson, one of the widows they contacted. She offset our view by giving is the side of the survivor as opposed to the message that we received from the notification officers. It showed how they tried to cope as they received the news and later, as they tried to move on with their life.
Also in the cast were Eammon Walker, Steve Buscemi, and Jena Malone.
DVD extras: Half-hour documentary with actual members of the Casualty Notification Squad; commentary; interviews with cast; previews. The documentary is really quite interesting to view this from both sides since they also interview some people that were notified as well as those that perform the duty. The cast interviews were very enlightening as they revealed how they actually felt about the movie and the assignment they were representing. It is stated, on the commentary track, that Moverman allowed Harrelson & Foster to improvise their response when they gave a notification. I felt this added a more personal touch to the movie.
Overall impression: Many scenes in this film were difficult to watch. The notification team really didn't have to say anything to the next of kin, as soon as they saw them arrive they already knew. Despite that, watching the reactions of both the kin and the notifiers was, if I may say so, interesting.
While the officers tried to remain detached and fairly impersonal, they also had to show some compassion since they were delivering what could be the most devastating news the next of kin would ever receive. To watch them, the officers, later told an entirely different story. Despite their detachment, they were deeply moved when in their own personal space.
Stone, perhaps the coldest in appearance, had trouble sleeping after a notification. He naturally turned to things that weren't possibly the best choice. Montgomery was fighting his own demons. He was still recovering from his own injuries and the breakup with his girlfriend. Both of them reached their breaking point at one time or another in the movie which I thought added a bit of humanity to their characters.
Overall I enjoyed the movie. It isn't a duty I envy and I completely sympathize with those that take this burden on. I think Moverman, Camon, Harrelson, and Foster offered this assignment with the dignity it deserves.
thanks to Sue, millinocket, for adding this to the database :)