Of late, Iraqi-themed war movie is either about focusing on fighting for country or debating politics, it's refreshing to see something out of the norm. In THE MESSENGER, the story is more about grief, loss, love, recovery and relationships.
Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), a decorated and injured soldier, has just returned home from war in Iraq and reunited with his longtime girlfriend Kelly (Jena Malone). But the bittersweet reunion doesn't last long enough after Kelly dumped him to marry another guy. Shortly after, Montgomery is assigned to work under Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and a member of the army's Casualty Notification division. Together, they are in charge of a mission to tell people of their loved ones' deaths. Stone has specifically guided him about the procedures to be followed during their course of the mission -- no hugs, no empathy, no help, no physical contact of any kind -- except delivering the news and walk away. Such task is certainly a new challenge for newcomer like Montgomery, who is at first having a tough time trying to adjust with life after combat while struggling to keep his head straight on fulfilling his assignment. Not long after, he starts to feel pity about a recently widowed woman named Olivia (Samantha Morton) and subsequently having a relationship with her.
First-time director Oren Moverman, who is previously a screenwriter for 2007's critically-acclaimed I'M NOT THERE, does a remarkable job creating a moving drama that is both heartfelt and emotionally penetrating. Together, he and co-writer Alessandro Camon doesn't skimp on melodramatic value that could have plagued this kind of genre. Instead, the movie flows as naturalistic as possible while bringing the realistic sense of authenticity to make the entire experience all the more intensely personal. No doubt it's a very depressing drama, which not surprisingly, tends to be a bit too talky. The first half of the movie is particularly good, as we detailed on Montgomery and Stone's subsequent mission to tell people of their loved ones' deaths where each notification brings different aura of emotion it feels so involving, yet painful to watch for.
Except that the movie stretches its two-hour length a bit overlong with redundant scenes that could have trimmed short. Still, the movie benefits from a stellar cast worthy of Oscar materials -- Woody Harrelson is mesmerizing and particularly impressive as the no-nonsense veteran with a sense of wry humor. The versatile Ben Foster continues to impress with his acting resume, this time as the struggling soldier trying to find balance between his personal life and his current duty. No doubt both of them has never been better, and their raw performances are among the finest in their acting career. On the supporting side, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi and even a smaller one from Jena Malone, are equally captivating.