Plot summary (from the studio): In his most powerful performance to date, Ben Foster stars as Will Montgomery, a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant who has just returned home from a tour in Iraq and is assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service. Partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers, Will faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking to find comfort and healing back on the home front. When he finds himself drawn to Olivia (Samantha Morton), to whom he has just delivered the news of her husband’s death, Will’s emotional detachment begins to dissolve and the film reveals itself as a surprising, humorous, moving and very human portrait of grief, friendship and survival.
Featuring tour-de-force performances from Foster, Harrelson and Morton, and a brilliant directorial debut by Oren Moverman, THE MESSENGER brings us into the inner lives of these outwardly steely heroes to reveal their fragility with compassion and dignity.
Warning: Spoilers below!
- The subject matter was unique. I’d never seen, read, or even thought about the people tasked with informing parents/spouses that a loved one has died in combat, so I appreciated the brief glimpse into that world afforded by this picture.
- Woody Harrelson was good here. I’m not always a fan of his work, but he nails this role. I know a lot of people have praised Foster’s performance, but honestly he bugged me. I liked Harrelson much better.
- Some of the scenes with family members were very powerful — especially the first one that Will goes to. It’s hard not to get choked up while watching this film.
- The movie began to feel very repetitive after a while. The two men would inform a family, go to a bar to get drunk or find women, and then do it again the next day. Perhaps this was an intentional choice by the filmmakers to show the drudgery of Army life even when not in combat, but even so it made the movie drag on and on for me.
- As I mentioned above, I didn’t like Ben. At first I thought it was just Foster, as there’s something about his face that rubs me the wrong way (shallow, I know), but then I came to realize that there’s nothing likable about his character. He’s not sympathetic at all. He’s just there, and doesn’t do much to make me want to be on his side.
- The scene where Will tells Tony how he got injured was supposed to be powerful, emotional, moving, etc. but again, I just found it boring. This was directly related to not caring about the character or about anything that happened to him.
- The budding–and wholly unnecessary–romance between Will and one of the widows that he notifies is incredibly skeevy and unseemly. Maybe that’s what turned me against the character.
The only reason I watched The Messenger is that it was the $.99 rental of the week on iTunes. For that price, the film was decent enough. At least the subject matter was unique (to a point) and Harrelson’s performance has merit. But on the whole the film failed to grab me. I was underwhelmed and ultimately bored these characters and their story. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.