Don’t shoot ‘em, goes the adage. But what if a messenger pitched up on your doorstep to deliver the worst news of your life? Not that director Oren Moverman’s intimate, heavy-hearted drama actually involves any such gunfire. No, it’s emotional fireworks that are the priority here, with Messenger following two army officers tasked with delivering bad news to the family members of dead soldiers.
“I’m not gonna be offering any hugs, sir,” gripes Will (Ben Foster), whose life has been the definition of ‘spiralling despair’ ever since he got back from Iraq. The sir in question, meanwhile, is Captain Tony (Woody Harrelson), the kind of guy who makes the bad-ass marines in Aliens look like fluffy, frisky kittens. Together, they do the job nobody else wants to.
It’s a smart premise, the character-inclined slant affording Messenger a freshness that the bullet-riddled, war-wail likes of The Kingdom couldn’t hope to attain. Of course, it helps to have had a man on the inside. An ex-paratrooper himself, Moverman clearly has demons to exorcise with his directorial debut.
Unforgiving in his endeavours to capture the pain and horror of those left behind during times of war, Moverman extracts white hot performances from his cast (“You fucking cowards!” screams a terrific Steve Buscemi, the father of a dead soldier), while also unearthing the midnight humour in the harrowing happenings (“Could be worse, could be Christmas,” deadpans Tony during one rough job).
Though Harrelson was the one nominated for an Academy Award, Foster is the eye of the storm here. Through him, Moverman enacts his testimonial against war, and Foster’s never anything less than 100% up to the task – a bold, fierce star in waiting. Is The Messenger a movie with a message? Yup, and one many are probably not going to like.
Another war movie, but starring a resurgent, Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson… 4
Well-crafted, taut with emotion, but vaguely directionless. Foster’s a blinder, though. 3
It stumbles a little, loosening its grip in the bromantic final stretch, but if impenitent heartstring pluckage is what you’re after, this is where it’s at. 4
Via Little White Lies