Three stellar performances and one brilliant original script make The Messenger a truly stand-out film about post-war trauma. It’s gripping cinema which allows you to put aside any attitudes you may have on our current crises, and step into the lives of people experiencing the pain of losing a loved one. First time Director Oren Moverman who also co-wrote the screenplay pours much of his own battle scars into the picture to deliver a redemptive tale that is well balanced and genuinely affecting. Not surprisingly, the film has been celebrated by many critics and rewarded with numerous prizes including 2 Oscar nominations.
Ben Foster is a young actor, whom I did not know before this film, and has instantly confirmed that we are witnessing a major talent in the league of Robert De Niro or even someone as far back as say James Dean. His quiet and unassuming role as the returned wounded soldier Will Montgomery is a masterclass performance in understated brilliance. Handed the unenviable task of notifying the Next of Kin, as a Casualty Notification Officer, he is teamed with seasoned cynic, one Captain Stone, played by the always on point Woody Harrelson. Together they set about delivering the worst possible news in the most unemotional and clinical manner. The results, of course, are heartbreaking. It’s only when the pair face the young widowed mother in Samantha Morton that the pair begin to fully understand the impact. Her unemotional acceptance of the news is received with astonishing gratitude, one that momentarily stumps our messengers, but is the trigger that brings about their eventual emotional unravelling. In the few scenes that Morton has on screen she is able to own every possible emotion with resolute conviction especially her gentle sensuality which she offers in the films more delicate and difficult moments with Ben Foster. I can only pray that we see more of this range in Morton’s work sometime soon.
Co-writer and Director Overman must of course be given full credit for laying out an outstanding script that allows for some profound characterizations. Both Foster and Harrelson are given the majority of the dialogue and it’s here that we are able to appreciate the thin macho veener each is holding up. Whereas Harrelson uses his superior comic sensibility in his tough guy persona Foster adopts an almost zen like approach. The conflict within themselves is all too evident, but this is where Overman makes his greatest contribution, as he gives some fantastic ideas and motifs to these tormented souls, using music; abrasive, loud and aggressive in Fosters case in particular and photography, his outdoor is clean and light with an almost tranquilizer quality and then his night time is an insomniac horror of soul destroying non-descript rooms. The characters only chance of redemption become each other and only someone who knows first hand the trauma young soldiers face upon returning could have delivered a film so affecting that at every turn their are reminders of how much we dont know. Again, Overman brings to life the alienation and despair in seemingly normal and banal scenes that just play with such gentle beauty, you begin to wonder what this first time director could do next.
Also there is a small but perfect heart-breaking performance by Steve Buscemi that should not go unnoticed.
For all the heavyweight emotional content this is a film that offers up a great deal of hope. By the end I was left savouring a truly cinematic moment knowing full well that The Messenger won’t be around for too long but it’s been such a great vehicle for the said performances that I may just look back at this work as a watershed in the careers of some fine young talent. Tragically humorous and profounded moving.
The Messenger is in cinemas 17th June 2011.
Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman
Stars: Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Woody Harrelson
Runtime: 113 min