Review: The Messenger

The Messenger | Oren Moverman, 2009

There have been plenty of movies about the Iraq war ever since the conflict started. Before The Messenger, only In the Valley of Elah and The Hurt Locker seemed to get it right, despite the former being as subtle in trying to tell its message as Lady Gaga in everything she does. The Messenger, however, is rather unique. Yes, its message is fairly obvious, but it takes a back seat to the story that it is telling. It cares more about its characters and the basic story than telling us how messed up soldiers are after they return from war. And that is why I found it so compelling and refreshing.

The movie follows Sgt. William Montgomery (Ben Foster). He has just returned from Iraq as a decorated hero with three month of duty to go. Since he can’t go back due to his injuries, he is assigned to the Casualty Notification Office, meaning he would be one of the people who notify a soldier’s next of kin about their death. He is to be trained by Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), an expert in that field. He is reluctant to take the job (who would want it), but since he was ordered to do it, he has to.

So, they go about their business, breaking people’s hearts. In one of those occations, when they notify Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), Montgomery falls for her, and so he starts dating her. But of course he has to battle with the dilemma of wheter or not he should do it. Also, he has to fight with his inner demons that came up after what caused his injuries. He also bonds with Stone, bringing something out of him that had not seen the light of day in many years.

The greatest thing that this movie has going for it is the performances. Woody Harrelson was extremely worthy of his Oscar nomination. In fact, I would have preferred it if he won instead of Christoph Waltz, because he is overdue (but I’m still glad about Waltz winning). Ben Foster is also so good in this. His scenes where he is alone, fighting with his feelings are extraordinary, and how he handles the notification scenes…wow. And Samantha Morton is also really good as a grieving widow. In a just world the two of them would have gotten nominated instead of Morgan Freeman and Penelope Cruz in their respective categories at the Oscars. It might be my favorite ensemble of the year

Besides the acting, the screenplay and the direction really shine. It is a very slow-burning movie, and Oren Moverman made sure that it wasn’t so slow for one to lose their patience, but enought to take in everything that was going on. My biggest gripe was the score, which in some parts sounded a lot like Clint Mansell’s score for The Wrestler, and in some places it felt out of place.

The Messenger is one of the best movies of 2009, and I hope that in the future this finds the audience it deserves.

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