Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

The Messenger

USA 2009
Directed by
Oren Moverman
112 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Messenger

The PBS NewsHour which was shown here each weekday evening on SBS TV used to post at the end of each show a silent roll-call of soldiers fallen that day. It was a telling strategy that is very much in keeping with Oren Moverman’s film.

The story concerns Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), a returned Iraqi vet who is assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service, which means that he has to visit the immediate next-of-kin (aka N.O.K.) and inform them that their son or daughter or husband has been killed in action. Will, who was a decorated “hero”, is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and is struggling with his role and even more so with his mentor and partner, tough-talking, by-the-book Capt.Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a recovering alcoholic who has never experienced combat and tries to cover up his sense of inadequacy with macho bluster.  

Unsurprisingly, The Messenger is a buddy movie with, typically-enough, the two men coming to understand and care for each other as their differing sensibilities are tested on the job and after hours. With fine performances from Foster and Harrelson, both, one feels, ticking bombs, the familiar trajectory is given engaging form. There are however a couple of questionable aspects.

The first is the relatively minor one of the casting of Steve Buscemi as an angry father.  A less well-known face would have been quite adequate to the role whilst his reappearance later in the film seems to be an improbable event. More significant however is a sub-plot involving Will’s hesitant romance with a widow Olivia (Samantha Morton) who is one of the N.O.K. the two men visit. We understand that they speak to each other’s need for empathetic companionship but structurally their relationship develops somewhat too easily and feels a little forced with Morton showing little justification for Will’s serious breach of protocol.

Moverman, a writer whose impressive credits include Married Life (2008), I'm Not There (2007) and Jesus's Son (1999) does an effective job in his directorial debut never letting the film drift into mawkishness whilst his script which he co-wrote with producer-turned-writer Alessandro Camon provides a convincing portrait of this little-seen aspect of army life and the human cost of war.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst