Dec 18, 2009

Movie Review: The Messenger

The Messenger A-

Director: Oren Moverman

Screenplay: Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camon

Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton

I’m switching to letter grades because there can be confusion about the 4-point system; in some schools 3.0 is the middle of the B range, while at others, 3.0 is the lowest B. Can you hear the universe breathing easier now that I’ve reduced (or purposefully increased) the ambiguity weighing upon it?

Now, about The Messenger, how many angles can writers come up with on the theme of “War is Hell”? Well, here’s one more. The Messenger is a very good, very serious movie about two soldiers whose job is notification of the next of kin that the soldier in their family has been killed.

Members of Congress should be required to see this movie, but they won’t. I predict that not many plain old citizens will go either because the story’s too grim.

I hope the writers got their facts straight; there are some things you don’t mess with. So I’ll say the presumably accurate information here is interesting; there are strict rules about how a soldier goes about this grisly business. Also, there’s simply the fact of a job not many people are aware of and even fewer would want.

So who has such a job? At one level that’s what the movie’s about. At a broader, deeper level, it’s a character study of two messengers and the newly bereaved people they meet as they carry out their duty. The whole situation is one way to put a human face on war and its aftermath.

The movie drags a bit in the middle. I suspect that some scenes could be cut, though each is interesting or even compelling while it’s happening.

One potential complaint: in the two central characters we see still more military men who are perhaps more wounded psychologically than they are physically. As accurate and important as this portrait may be, is the subject of the damaged veteran wearing out its welcome as a subject for films? That sounds like blasphemy, like a terrible question, but I feel sure people wonder—or simply complain. Those who like war might say The Messenger dishonors the military by making soldiers humanly complex and vulnerable. Those who are sick of war might argue that they won’t put themselves through one more perspective on its awfulness.

The story is what it is (as we say these days. It's a thing to say. Like, "I'm sorry for your loss."). The acting is excellent, including Woody Harrelson's bad cop against Ben Foster's good cop; the script and direction respect the complexity and ambiguity in both characters. The scenes seem utterly realistic, and the content has more than enough heft. Only the length (too long?) and pacing (too slow and repetitive?) are questionable. If you have the time and energy to see something more or less as a duty, at least there's a high-quality presentation in The Messenger.

* *


Jeff M said...

My God, who the hell would want to watch this film? No offense, Banjo, but some things...I don't know. It's right up there with Sophie's Choice or Boys Don't Cry.

Banjo52 said...

Jeff, I might convert my reply to a whole post one of these days. For now, let's just say I excuse myself from some of the dark stuff too--Clockwork Orange comes to mind immediately.

But I still think Congress ought to watch this and others like it. And I had that idea LONG before Michael Moore put it into Fahrenheit 911. I suppose it's a juvenile idea, but I can't help but wonder how much of themselves they put into such questions.

Lovers' Lane