Monday, December 27, 2010

The Messenger- Dir. Oren Moverman (2009) Film Recommendation

"We walk into these people's lives; we don't know shit."

Some say great art is universal, but I've always suspected it has more to do with the particular. What I mean is that great art invites us to step outside of ourselves in order to see the world (or a tiny fragment of it) from the unique, subjective perspective of another person (artist, narrator, character, etc.). Not only is this an inherently empathetic act, but it allows us to gain a new perspective on our own experiences, perhaps a realization that our little corner of "reality" may not be the only corner out there. The Messenger is a film that explores this idea on a number of levels.

The film focuses on Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) who has just returned to the States after serving a tour of duty in Iraq, where he was injured by an IED while trying to save a fellow soldier. Soon, Will is assigned to the "Casualty Notification Team" commanded by Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). Their "sacred" mission is to notify N.O.K.s (next of kin) that their loved ones have been killed in combat. What becomes clear after the film's dramatization of a few of these notifications is that Will and Tony bear witness, over and over again, to a form of violence just as devastating as what Will faced in Iraq: the irreparable emotional destruction of the families they provide their "services" to.

Will and Tony deal with their mission differently, and this is where, I feel, the movie is at its most profound.  While Tony unwaveringly sticks to the official "script" and follows procedure to the letter, even refusing to engage in any bodily contact with the N.O.K.s, Will seems to feel a deeper responsibility toward them. He looks them in the eyes and does not turn away from the devastation that follows, even when it results in grief-stricken abuse toward Tony and himself. The second half of the film focuses on Will and Tony's developing friendship and Will's complicated attraction to a widow (Samantha Morton) whom he meets while delivering the news of her husband's death. While these story lines serve to develop the main characters in more emotional detail, the film seems to move away slightly from what makes it so original in the first place: a glimpse of the world from the perspective of people facing a very different "reality" from what most of us face day-to-day. This small criticism aside, the film crackles with a first-rate script and fine acting from Foster, Harrelson, and Morton- well worth seeing!


  1. saw this on nextflix last week. it was pretty good.

  2. Hi Scott, this movie surprised me. I though it had some great acting, and it did something rare; it inspired me to write a little review!


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