If we were to compare two of the essential Iraq War/War on Terror films of 2009, two films would come to mind; The Oscar winning Hurt Locker and The Messenger. After being able to experience both in theatres, it is my deepest opinion that The Messenger was by miles the better of the two.
It’s hard not to compare the two films. Both films take place within a war-torn post-9/11 United States and both deal with the individual citizens of America who sacrifice so much for such a hollow cause.
Completely overlooked by the Academy and other illustrious international awards, The Messenger is a hard hitting, heart-pounding emotional knockout!
Like The Hurt Locker, The Messenger is a simple story with a simple premise. Following two men who are ordered to deliver the tragic news of fallen soldiers in the war before national news companies, Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and war hero Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) seem to provide a service for the US Army that is, at first, unimportant and highly unappreciated. In fact, as the film progresses, the jobs of these two men seem to have more gut-wrenching, thrilling and tragic consequences than some of the many positions on the frontier of the war in Iraq.
The reasons why The Messenger delivers on so many levels is quintessentially its writing. Screenwriter Alessandro Camon and first time director/screenwriter Oren Moverman pack a sentimental punch consistently with every frame of the film.
Things start to go awry once Will becomes emotionally and physically attracted to a widow of a fallen soldier. Samantha Morton, one of the most consistent actresses within Hollywood, transforms herself into the washed-down, everyday wife Olivia Pitterson. Although light on seduction and sex appeal, Morton makes up for it with her superior acting abilities and transfixing facial expressions. Morton makes Olivia an absurdly tragic character, but at the same time, makes her completely believable.
Although, as expected, ethical and moral questions of the awry relationship between the two arise, the film becomes less a love story between two tainted and fragile individuals, and more about a story of war without ever stepping foot on the actual battlefield.
Unlike other emotional and tragic war stories of the decade ( Jarhead, Brothers and, dare I mention, Dear John) The Messenger sees it unnecessary to flashback to combat. The emotional commentary is relayed through the convincing performances of Foster and Harrelson. Most notably Harrelson, who was nominated for his second Oscar for this performance, provides the film with some of the most challenging questions and hypercritical ideals within American society. In Stone, Harrelson’s captivating character, surfaces some of the contradictory notions of American pride and integrity in both the average American citizen and Army personnel.
Some of the year’s best cameos can also be seen in The Messenger . Jena Malone who plays Kelly, Will’s girlfriend who broke up with him following his decision to enter the service, provides some of critical tidbits about Will’s character and the harrowing revelation Will experiences near the films powerful conclusion. Alongside Malone, Steve Buscemi graces the frames of the film with his portrayal of a devastated father who receives the news of his son’s death.
The Messenger can easily be hailed as one of the most memorable post-traumatic war films of the decade. Its trance like dialogue and gripping scenes of two men delivering tragic news of death and devastation to homes of strangers, as well as the confident directing by Israeli director Moverman, cannonballs the film into high praise.
The Messenger is a gut-wrenching account of the lives of men and women in war and how the lives of the uniformed clash with the average lives of people in America. Banking more on dialogue and less on the use of spectacle, it is the words of the characters that allow audience members to be hypnotized and conjure up enigmatic emotions of guilt and empathy. Plain and simple, The Messenger is a dramatic movie experience you won’t want to miss.