This film is a somewhat realistic and horrifying depiction of what life must be like for families whose loved ones are killed while serving on active duty. Like many war-themed movies that have come before, The Messenger may be difficult to watch if you have family or friends serving our country.
Focused on the Casualty Notification division of the army, this film tells the story of the people responsible for relaying the news to the next of kin that their loved one has died in battle or on assignment. These “messengers” have a specific duty to the Army as well as to the family of the deceased soldiers. Staff Sargent Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is assigned to the notification role after being injured while overseas. He learns his new duties by working closely with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). The two men have had very different experiences during their Army careers and must learn from one another as they tackle one of the most difficult jobs a soldier or officer can have.
Tony gives Will a long list of rules for successfully tackling this job. Some of the guidelines include not having any physical contact with the next of kin, only speaking directly to the next of kin and making sure not to hover around a house prior to making contact. Throughout his new assignment, Will has a difficult time obeying the rules because he feels that being the bearer of such devastating news should include some human compassion. As he tries to follow the rules, he crosses a line when he finds himself comforting the widow of one of the deceased soldiers.
This film is very sad and wonderful at the same time. War time movies don’t seem to be very successful because they tackle a subject that is still so fresh in the minds of many Americans. This film, while depressing in nature, tells a new side to members of the US Army. There is an added feature on the DVD extras that is a short documentary about some of the families who have experienced a Casualty Notification Officer and the process the movie details. The real life stories are more heartbreaking than the film could ever be, but it also shows that much of what is in the movie is a close replication of what actually happens when a soldier dies.
Foster and Harrelson were exquisite in these roles and I admired every emotion they put out there. Harrelson, who was a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for this role, gave a strong performance and I was surprised by his moments of weakness as his character. With each film Harrelson makes, I find it harder to believe that he ever played such a laid back character on Cheers all those years ago. Foster is brilliant. As much as I respect Harrelson’s performance, I truly believe that Foster should have gotten the Oscar nomination. Every single second of his performance is rough and completely believable. He has this way of being so emotionally available that you almost forget you’re watching an actor. This film wouldn’t be so gripping without their stellar performances.
While not all aspects are spot-on, this is a movie after all, it allows for a broader audience to see into what many members of America are dealing with on a daily basis. The DVD extras also make sure to respect the process that this film is all about. I believe that telling a story like this in a film is important. Sure, it may not have a mass appeal that a summer blockbuster would, but it tells the tale of the human spirit.