For a family with an enlisted child, partner, or parent, it is most likely the worst situation. Military officers arrive at your front door to inform you of your loved one’s death while on a tour of duty. It is a horrible scenario and an all too real nightmare for many in the past couple of years. But who are these soldiers, the informers of casualties? Oren Moverman’s new film, The Messenger, attempts to become the fly on the wall, exploring the lives and psyches of the bearers of grief.
The circumstances are flipped for the masses, exhibiting the torture and pressure upon the officers that deliver such devastating news. The two officers observed are Staff Sergeant Montgomery (Ben Foster), a man basically forced into the position, and Captain Stone (Woody Harrelson), a seasoned veteran in the assignment. Both men are from different eras in the Iraqi-American conflict, each with their own career achievements and psychological trauma. All of these emotions slowly boil to the surface throughout the film, with each message scene at someone’s home serving as an intermission from story development. In no way are these scenes a diversion; they are by far some of the most intimate and harrowing visions of tragedy. These scenes instead emphasis the documentary approach of the film and intricacies of each actor.
In one such scene, Montgomery delivers news to a new widow (Samantha Morton) that sets off an unlikely, yet undeveloped relationship between the two sufferers. The two begin to feel a connection and pull toward each other, basing a romantic flirtation that hinges on stalking and grief counseling. Again, the natural feel of the shooting style and long takes focus on the awkwardness and pain of real life. This is by far the most dramatic aspect of the film, drawing comparisons to the mundane normalcy and repeatedly, the torture of returning home to an unfamiliar life. The two men eventually can find solace in each other, becoming partners and maybe even friends. Yet again, the film pushes in on these scenes, allowing for a closeness and distress simultaneously. Harrelson is great as the rigid, yet cartoonish, superior who trains the tormented Foster on notification procedure and at times influences him to cut the binds that be. Each scene that focuses on the developing relationships is powerful due to great nuanced acting, but more aptly because of the documentary filming style with minimal editing.
The Messenger is a straightforward film that emphasizes the pain and suffering of all people involved during war times through great minimal dialogue acting and long documentary shot-like filming. It is a great idea with great scenes, but seems to lull too much. It is peppered with anti-war sentiments through the dialogue but in no way is a leftist discourse about the state of governing. It’s a poignant film for our time that reflects some issues of each of our lives and the importance of human connection. Not a great film, but a good one people will be talking about in the coming months.