Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Many of the films made about the various wars in the Middle East have been both commercial and critical failures. Lately, some filmmakers are getting it right. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker was an intense film that has garnered three Golden Globe nominations, including best drama, director, and screenplay, and is deservedly positioned on many critics’ “ten best” lists.
Another film, The Messenger, is the flip side of The Hurt Locker coin. In The Hurt Locker, we are immersed in the lives of the soldiers doing their jobs. In The Messenger, we observe the Casualty Notification Detail from the Army. These are the guys who have the thankless task of informing the immediate families that their son or daughter has died in combat…and have to do so before the families get the news from other sources.
The Messenger, in its own way, is just as powerful, as are the performances. Woody Harrelson is nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the Lieutenant in charge of the Detail, and it is soul-searching, intense performance. We know Harrelson can act from his stellar work in The People vs. Larry Flynt, No Country for Old Men, and A Prairie Home Companion. Ben Foster, playing the sergeant being assigned to the Detail for the last three months of his enlistment, matches Harrelson’s performance scene-for-scene. He’s a decorated hero, and is not particularly happy at this new assignment. If the name Ben Foster doesn’t ring any bells, think back to the remake a couple of years ago of 3:10 to Yuma. He played the steely-eyed, crazed gunslinger who was part of Russell Crowe’s gang. It was a star-making performance, and his turn in The Messenger proves that was no fluke.
Foster’s personal life is a shambles. His girlfriend is marrying someone else for financial security, although they still meet in secret. He’s at loose ends about what to do when he’s no longer in the Army. And then he commits the unpardonable sin of the assignment: he falls in love with a widow he has had to notify about her husband’s death. The terrific British actress Samantha Morton, who was sensational in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report and Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, plays Olivia. She has completely transformed her physical appearance to inhabit the life of this sweet lady who must now be a single parent to her young son.
The Messenger is a straightforward story with a lot of heart. There’s nothing soapy or depressing or off-putting about any part of the film. Director and co-writer Owen Moverman really knows how to build and execute scenes, and also how to sculpt a script full of engaging dialog.
Although you may be able to guess how events play out, nothing is really telegraphed in advance, and there are no curves thrown. It is what it is, and what it is, is one terrific movie with some of the best performances you’ll see this year.
The R-rated The Messenger is currently showing only at the Esquire Theatre, and only for two showings each day. If the film should garner some Oscar nominations…as well it should…then perhaps it will play a little wider. But don’t count on “if.” Get yourself to a showing of The Messenger A.S.A.P. It’s a movie experience worthy of your attendance.