The casualties of war extend far beyond the battlefields. Loved ones of fallen soldiers are emotionally disabled and forever wounded. The Casualty Notification Office is responsible for delivering the worst possible news — that of a husband, wife, son or daughter whose life has been lost in combat.
“The Messenger” is a film about two men a military family never wants to have knocking at the door. Within 24 hours of a soldier’s death, Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) are in charge of locating the next of kin and giving them the barest facts: where, when and how the soldier died. There are to be no condolences, no touching, no future contact.
Stone, a veteran of Desert Storm and semi-recovering alcoholic, has been breaking the bad news for a long time and has it down pat. Montgomery, recently wounded in Iraq, is serving out the last three months of his tour of duty. He’s had his fill of death and despair. For Stone, it’s a “hit and git” operation. For Montgomery, it’s a gut-wrenching, personal confrontation. Breaking all the rules, he falls in love with a new and not-so-grieving widow (the wonderful Samantha Morton).
Harrelson is terrific in this hard-ass-turned-compassionate-soldier role and has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But Foster owns this film. The scene-stealer from the fantastic “3:10 to Yuma,” Foster’s compelling performance proves that he’s a young and gifted actor with a bright future.
Combat veteran of the Israeli army, Oren Moverman directs (first time) and scripts (“Married Life,” “I’m Not There”) this intense drama. Employing a straightforward approach sans fancy camerawork or overwrought scoring, Moverman nails the tricky subject matter. He and co-writer Alessandro Camon are also nominated for an Oscar for best writing.
“The Messenger” deals with open wounds and quelling the pain — a senseless pain, which only wars can inflict. If only that message could prevail, perhaps actions would not speak louder than words.
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