DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Messenger

Saturday 28 August 2010

The Messenger

The Messenger (2010) dir. Oren Moverman
Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Samantha Morton


By Alan Bacchus

How many ways from Sunday can the effect of the Iraq war be deconstructed? Back in the Vietnam days there was Coming Home, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now – that’s it. We seem to have it all in perspective now, even though the war is still going on. It’s not that The Messenger doesn’t feel disingenuous, but we are just bombarded with these films.

It’s different era than the 40’s when Hollywood made unabashedly patriotic propaganda films about the War being fought. Casablanca is perhaps the best example. Even in the Vietnam War, a successful film like John Wayne’s The Green Berets was shamelessly rabble-rousing and also controversial in its inaccurate portrayal of the reality of the fighting in Vietnam.

And with so much information available to us, we can’t dress up the general feeling of distaste that is the Iraq War. Few if any of us want soldiers fighting over there. Even those who think the War is necessarily politically and economically would likely never want to use propaganda to fool the homefront for the sake of patriotism.

The Messenger actually manages to find a point of view of war that surprisingly no one else in cinema, to my recollection, has shown. That is the job of the soldiers who go door to door to give the wives, mothers and fathers the news of soldiers’ deaths in combat.

Ben Foster Sgt Will Montgomery, a newbie to the gig, is partnered up with Cpt Tony Stone the more experienced of the two who has a textbook approach to bed side manner. In the film’s best moments, Stone educates Will about what to do and what not to do when telling someone their son or daughter has just been killed in action – show no emotion, no hugs, no physical contact of any sort, even small details like parking one's car a block away from the house. Absurd as it sounds; I believe there is such a book and that the job of bereavement has been turned into a science by the military.

After a number of encounters, Will betrays almost every rule by attempting to start a relationship with one of the widows played by Samantha Morton. It's relationship played very delicately but one which arises from their mutual desperation for love. The film loses its direction (pun intended) when Will and Tony drive off on a wacky road trip which ends at the engagement party of his former girlfriend, played by Jena Malone.

Woody Harrelson is very good and probably deserves his Oscar-nomination. Miraculously despite his oddball, pot smoking behaviour in real life he manages to find roles which best take advantage of his deranged view of the world. Perhaps credit goes to his agent. Think of his roles in the past couple of years – a wacky cultist in 2012, a deranged vigilante in Defendor, a hillbilly zombie fighter in Zombieland, and now a serious but also slightly off-kilter former soldier.

It’s also fun to see former child actor Jena Malone doing the nasty with partial nudity with Foster in the opening. The poor girl stayed under the celebrity rader of the Lindsay Lohans in Hollywood, but unfortunately has not yet became the adult star Kristin Stewart is or Dakota Fanning will become.

It’s Ben Foster’s film though and like almost everything else he does, he’s intense and magnetic in a 50’s tortured James Dean kind of way. It’s only a matter of time before Foster finds his role of a lifetime and becomes a Robert De Niro of his generation.

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