The Messenger

Hollywood has produced many war films over the years, whether it’s Terrence Mallick’s World War II epic the Thin Red Line, Catherine Bigilow’s The Hurt Locker or the cheesy 80s classic Top Gun, Hollywood is expert at producing films about blood, guts and glory on the battlefield. Unfortunately, American filmmakers, with the exception of Oliver Stone, who made the excellent Born on the Fourth July, don’t seem to be very good at making movies about the aftermath of war, or the effect that conflict has on a soldier’s friends and family. Once in a while, however, an American film comes along that deals with the human cost of war. The Messenger is just such a movie.

This is the tale of two soldiers, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery and Colonel Tony Stone. These men are part of the US army’s casualty notification unit, a group whose sole responsibility is notifying the parents, spouses and lovers of fallen (dead) soldiers that their loved ones will not be coming home. The movie follows Stone and Montgomery as they go about their duties, and details the problems they face as the two of them deal with distraught family members and their own demons.

Woody Harrelson (Anger Management, Ed TV, 2012, Natural Born Killers, An Indecent Proposal) masterfully portrays Tony Stone, a misogynistic, chronically bitter, recovering alcoholic who is frustrated with his limited military experience and slavishly devoted to the protocol of his current unit. I was impressed with Harrelson’s ability to portray someone who at first appears so tough and unyielding, but the in end turns out to be a very fragile and troubled person

Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Pandorum, 30 Days of Night, Six Feet Under, X-Men Last Stand) plays Will Montgomery, a 20-something war hero damaged not only physically, but also mentally, from his time in Iraq. Foster does a good job portraying this man who, while struggling with his inner darkness and a rather tangled love life, still manages to be a decent human being.

Other good performances include those by Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), who portrays a war widow who becomes the object of Montgomery’s attention, and Steve Bucsemi (Living in Oblivion, Fargo, Imposters, Big Fish), who plays the father of a dead soldier. It’s nice to see Bucsemi play something other then gangsters, odd balls and serial killers, and portray a character that the audience can actually empathize with.

This is a very good movie, but it is also very sad. So many of the characters spend so much time in mourning that some viewers might find it somewhat draining. I have never seen a movie about the US military that has so much crying in it. However, if you wish to see a movie about the folly of George W. Bush’s extremely misguided imperialistic adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is definitely it.

In fact, I would argue that in an ideal world both George Bush and Tony Blair would be forced to watch this very powerful piece of cinema.