Written by Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
Directed by Oren Moverman
Starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton
Dale Martin: Why are you here? Why aren’t you dead?
THE MESSENGER opens on an eye. This is an eye that has clearly been through difficult terrain and has seen its fair share of unnecessary horror. Its sadness and despair hang in its pupil, weighting in down as the tears inevitably fall from the corners. The worst of it is, that this eye hasn’t seen anything yet.
The eye to this particular world belongs to Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster). Will has been wounded in batter in Iraq and has been sent back to the United States to take on new responsibilities while he heals and completes the duration of his term with the army. Let alone that he doesn’t want to be back to begin with, he soon gets an assignment that he can’t stand. It is now his job to announce the deaths of American soldiers to their next of kin with the deepest of sympathies from the U.S. government. To you or me, this might seem like a relief but it isn’t long before Will wants back in the field.
He is literally the bearer of bad news and this is a burden that is shouldered bravely and strongly by a mature Foster. As Will, he is more contained than usual, holding his angst inside instead of letting it all out spastically. Like the character he is playing, Foster appears to have lived a little more and subsequently learned some more about life’s hardships. Working opposite veteran character actors, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton, certainly doesn’t hurt either. Harrelson is his commanding officer and his own command of his internal conflict reminds us just how dynamic he is as an actor. Morton meanwhile pulls out a heartbreaking performance out of very little screen time as a new widow, unsure of how to proceed with her life.
Foster’s newfound control is certainly put to good use in THE MESSENGER. The army has a very strict policy about how the news of a dead soldier is to be delivered. First of all, it must be done in a timely fashion. With so many ways to get news out there today, if the army doesn’t get to the next of kin fast enough, they could just end up seeing live footage of the death online. Secondly, the job is to deliver the news, offer condolences and provide direction for the bereaved. At no time though is one allowed to console with a comforting touch. The worst news imaginable is delivered and sympathy is expressed but never shown.
Naturally, the news is never taken that well. Whoever hears it can sense that whoever is delivering it isn’t as sincere as they appear. The same can be said for first time director, Oren Moverman. Moverman presents himself as another messenger, just of a different kind. As THE MESSENGER exposes the desolate lack of emotion expressed by the army at these horrifying moments, Moverman hopes that we too will get his message of futility. Unfortunately, despite some great moments and performances, it is just as easy to see through Moverman as it is to see through the army.