Tagline: The hardest job in the military is in the casualty notification service.
Synopsis: A wounded American soldier returns home from Iraq and while recovering from injuries, is assigned is to the Casualty Notification Service. As he struggles to adjust to the life he left behind, he befriends the wife of a fallen officer and is forced to confront to change his life before deep-seated emotions take him down the wrong path.
Meat & Potatoes: The Messenger isn’t a movie about war. It’s not about military service either. This is a story about men and women who are forced to deal with the toll of war as soldiers, mothers, fathers, and children. There are lasting consequences, we learn, from the onset of the story as Sgt. Major Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) returns from a tour in Iraq with permanent injuries – both physical and psychological. He finds himself assigned to the Casualty Notification Service and resolute Captain Stone, tasked with notifying next of kin of the death of their son or daughter in war – often within twenty-four hours. Montgomery epitomizes the everyman of soldiers, wounded inside and out, who struggle with their irrevocable changedness.
I’m not sure I’d call The Messenger an independent film with a budget estimated at $6.5 million dollars, though small in comparison to many produced films, but it feels like one. Now for some, that would be reason enough not to watch it, to avoid the typical chat-fest of drawn out conversations and waxing philosophic. I’m reminded of films like Before Sunset, the Richard Linklater film starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy – which btw, I liked – not so much on the follow-up, Before Sunrise in 2004. On a side note, Ethan Hawke was fantastic as good cop to bad cop Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) in Training Day. He was equally convincing in Gattica, the Andrew Niccol film where Hawke played gene-thief Vincent Freeman opposite Uma Thurman and Jude Law. While many panned the film, I found the story of a genetically inferior man struggling with his identity in a world where genetically superior people reside like trophy prizes above even the law, probable as well as watchable – just yesterday I listened to an NPR news brief about Scientists claiming to have made a living cell from DNA that was originally synthesized in a lab. Remember, DNA is the basic building blocks of life. When art imitates life the conclusion is that anything is possible with the appropriate recipe of time, money, and desire. Sounds like movie-making, no?
Most independent films feature dialogue rich scenes where characters are allowed to develop for as much about how they react to things as about what they say. In their large budget, block buster counterparts, characters often succumb to story and plot. It’s my assertion that the best films, a great many independent, are defined by difficult stories, though familiar and often uncomfortable, explored through emotionally honest performances. That’s not to say you can’t find these elements within the framework of the high-concept-low-story films. Take Steven Spielberg‘s re-telling of the Orson Welles classic, War of the Worlds, with Tom Cruise (Ray Ferrier) as the literal “ferry-man” for his family. Characterization first, then story, then plot.
Ultimately, The Messenger leaves you with something to think about. The ‘notification’ scenes are challenging for the viewer but the emotional consequences of war stories from the perspective of vulnerable people rings true. Writer-director Owen Moverman shows us the often silent, faceless causalities of all wars.
Bits & Bites: The Messenger was nominated for two Academy Awards, Woody Harrelson for Best Supporting Actor and Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for Original Screenplay.
Official The Messenger website.
The Closer: The messenger isn’t a movie about war. It’s not about military service either. This is a story about men and women who are forced to deal with the toll of war as soldiers, mothers, fathers, and children.