Friday, December 18, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Messenger

The Messenger
Directed by Oren Moverman
Released November 13, 2009

Dealing with tragedy is never an easy thing, and showcasing that is just as difficult. “The Messenger” tackles it head-on by following two soldiers whose lives have already been complicated and affected by their war experiences abroad, and whose daily dose of heartbreak increases exponentially when they are tasked with informing next of kin that their family members have given their lives in the service of their country. That’s never something anyone wants to hear, and this film does of an extraordinary job of showing just how impossible both sides of the situation are.

“The Messenger” is an incredibly intimate film, which spotlights only three main characters, and takes the soldiers right into the homes of unsuspecting family members about to receive devastating, life-changing news from people they’ve never met and who they’ll likely never see again. There’s something about that intimacy which feels invasive and intrusive, and that’s conveyed exceedingly well by the discomfort on the faces of those charged with delivering the news. It’s easy to sympathize with both parties, and there’s a magnificent moment in the film where a killed soldier’s wife sees the men coming and knows what they’re about to say and pre-empts them by shaking their hands and saying, “I know this can’t be easy for you either.” The film is just as much about the messengers as it is about the people whose lives they touch and the messages they must deliver.

The sympathetic and intimate nature of the characters is due to a strong script and deft direction by first-time filmmaker Oren Moverman, but it’s due mostly to the skilled actors in their roles. The steely-eyed Ben Foster branches out from playing creepy villains (“Hostage,” “3:10 to Yuma”), and pulls together a staggering composite of a someone who likes living a life of solitude but stills yearns to make human connections. Playing off of him is Woody Harrelson, who gets serious and nostalgic as an alcoholic soldier who’s been doing this for way too long and become all too jaded and accustomed to it. Foster and Harrelson make for an unexpected and exceptional pair, and their conversations about life, women, and war feel searingly real. The people they meet in their line of work make for fascinating subjects of interaction, and a small role by Steve Buscemi as the father of a deceased soldier is particularly poignant. The always stellar Samantha Morton gives the film a much-needed life-affirming perspective, and her blasé reaction to her husband’s death and her subsequent bonding with Foster’s character is absolutely enthralling and engaging. There’s not very far to physically go in “The Messenger,” but there’s a deeply ingrained notion throughout the whole film that these men have been a lot of places, and that they carry around the weight of what they’ve seen and done with them every day. The film doesn’t take place abroad, but in some moments, it’s just as quietly momentous and moving as “The Hurt Locker.” Invoking that kind of intensity and emotion is an awe-inspiring feat, and that’s something this film does spectacularly.


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