Tuesday, 26 October 2010
FILM REVIEW: THE MESSENGER
It has taken almost a year for The Messenger to release in Australia, and that may have something to do with The Hurt Locker. Like that film, The Messenger deals with the US involvement in Iraq, a hard enough pitch to audiences at the best of times. Given that The Hurt Locker won the Best Picture Oscar earlier this year, it was probably a good idea not to risk having The Messenger get lost in its wake.
But The Messenger also came in for some Oscar attention (Woody Harrelson was nominated for Supporting Actor; and Original Screenplay for writer-director Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camen), and the film succeeds on its own terms. It also works as a sort of companion piece to Kathryn Bigelow's film: 'Locker' is very much concerned with soldiers in the theatre of war; 'Messenger' focuses on what those soldiers deal with once they return.
It also deals with the impact of war on the families and loved ones. Or as they are referred to here, the NOK (next of kin). Staff Sargeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) survived a roadside bombing whilst stationed in Iraq but his injuries prevent his return. He is enlisted as a messenger, delivering death notices and partnered and mentored in this mission by Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson), a no-nonsense, on-the-wagon officer with a list of rules for engaging the NOK's.
The scenes of these two officers delivering the bad news range from uncomfortable to painful. The most surprising reaction is from Olivia (Samantha Morton) who takes the news calmly and politely. She intrigues Will, and despite instructions to the contrary, he becomes involved with the now single mum.
It's a tentative and sensitive courtship that's more inquisitive than physical, and both Foster and Morton make the most of what's never said. Excellent, too, is Harrelson as a soldier whose demons seem to stem from not having seen any military action. The final scene with the two men is devastating in its depiction of barely contained suffering.
Like the best war films, The Messenger is anti-war without being didactic or belligerent about it. It's also very much pro-soldier – as in hate the war, support the troops. It doesn't make for fun viewing but it's well worth answering the call.