The Messenger (2009)

by stronged

Stars: ***

Dir. Oren Moverman

The Messenger tells the story of returned Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) as he is transferred into the Angel’s of Death department to see out his service. Shown the ropes by his new partner Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), Montgomery at first despises the fact that he has now been tasked with the responsibility to deliver the terrible news of soldiers that have died in the line of duty to their next of kin (NOK). He struggles to make sense of this new challenge in his life while he tries to shake off memories of his passed life with ex-girlfriend Kelly (Jena Malone).

Thrown into the world of these “Angels of Death” we are at first fascinated as to what it is like to be in their shoes, quickly realizing that it is a terrible position to be in. However, as Stone so delicately puts as the only way to succeed in their duty, “… put your hand in your pants, grab a handful of balls and do it right.”, Montgomery feels that there is something more to it than this systematic approach of dealing with grief.

This film was a slow burner for me. It was only about two thirds in when the narrative really kicked off and i was interested in all of the characters – considering very little is given away about the implicit motives of each character before then.

I feel that this film deals with many important themes that the public are not privy to on a day to day basis. Like Stone says in a monotone of extended theorizing, “… they ought’a show every goddamn funeral live (pointing at the television), have the President come around and eulogize. Get people used to it, i mean, are we at war or not?” So rarely is the subject of military personnel death publicised in the media that we are almost censored by what exactly our country and citizens are involved in. However, a change of this restriction of information may have the negative effect of desensitizing the public to the deaths of an individual. It is certainly a debatable topic and one which deserves the right to be dealt with on a regular basis to reach some kind of compromise/resolution.

A simply put together film that could have been trimmed up a little bit in the script stage. However, a poignant film nonetheless. I have mixed feelings about the use of well-known actors such as Steve Buscemi and Samantha Morton being used as NOK’s though. It seemed to be more of a distraction than a productive use of talent in this scenario.

I am thankful that Moverman did not present the cliche post traumatic stress riddled returned serviceman in this tale. It is refreshing to see an underplayed portrayal of such characters as Montgomery. I give Moverman props for this.