REVIEW: The Messenger

26 07 2010

The Messenger” – it’s just like “Up in the Air,” only with graver situations and implications. And that’s a very good thing!

The movie captures with a haunting realism the journeys of two enlisted men (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) assigned to notify the families of killed soldiers.  It’s a tough job, and they deal with some furious people (the most memorable of which is a livid father played by Steve Buscemi).  They eventually grow used to the reactions and train themselves to be callous to the anguish of the families, largely by sticking to a set script.  Yet they never allow themselves to be a broken record, always performing their duties with the intent of honoring the fallen soldier.

It gives them quite a shock whenever one wife, Olivia (Samantha Morton), anticipates their bad tidings and shows little emotion at receiving the news.  Her unusual calmness rattles them both, particularly Foster’s Ben Montgomery, who winds up forging a deep connection with her.  But when his job entails conveying only the emotion of deep respect, it causes some friction between the two soldiers.

While the movie did receive an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, this is definitely a movie to see for the actors.  It’s not exactly a breakout role for Foster, but the up-and-comer sure shows promise of great things to come.  He’s great on the road, but the mushier scenes with Olivia.  Previous Oscar nominee Morton is powerful as ever as she keeps her grief repressed inside.  At the heart and soul of the movie is Harrelson, who delivers a truly compelling performance truly worthy of the Academy Award nomination it received.

As great as everything is, I left the movie not knowing how the filmmakers wanted me to feel. The movie begins to drag as it comes to a close, mainly because of the muddled emotions.  “The Messenger” loses a lot of its ability to rivet us in the last thirty minutes, but there’s plenty of powerful scenes and moments beforehand to still leave us very satisfied.  B+ /