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The Messenger

Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson

Review by Tim Carson

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Messenger has been hanging around since 2009 and is only now getting a release. That’s often a sign that a film is not all that great, however, this is thankfully not the case with The Messenger, which not only won Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Woody Harrelson but picked up awards and nominations at film festivals around the globe.

And they were richly deserved as while the film may not be of mass market appeal it contains two excellent performances from Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster and gives a moving glimpse into what must be one of the hardest jobs in the military.

Harrelson is Captain Tony Stone of the US Army’s Casualty Notification service. He’s a recovering alcoholic and is a soldier who has never seen action. He’s paired with a new partner Will Montgomery, played with quiet intensity by Ben Foster, a US Army Staff Sergeant who has returned home after being injured in Iraq. With only three months left on his tour he’s assigned to the Casualty Notification service much against his wishes.

It’s not long before Will is beginning to learn just how difficult a job telling families that their loved ones have been killed in action can be. Captain Stone instructs him on how to do it by the book – which means strictly sticking to the official script and never physically comforting the bereaved family.

It’s easier said than done and while Captain Stone forces himself to retain an emotional detachment Will finds it much harder and is drawn to Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton) who he has had to deliver the news of her husband’s death.

Foster is great as the emotionally brittle Will Montgomery managing to convey the hurt and trauma he’s been through without saying much. He’s a perfect contrast to Woody Harrelson’s excellent performance as the more volatile Captain Stone, who on the surface is able to handle the stress of his job while underneath is barely holding it together and never far from cracking up.

The balance of the two works well and gives us contrasting insights into the reality of war – the tragedy of death and the impact it has on those who survive – without witnessing the brutality.

Writer-director Oren Moverman populates the film with a strong supporting cast including Steve Buscemi as the angry father of a dead soldier and Jena Malone as the love Will Montgomery left behind which adds depth and power to the great script.

An excellent portrait of a hidden and horrible side to war and a reminder of the human cost that is definitely worth seeing.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 105 mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: October 17, 2011