The Messenger (2009)

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.

Anticipation
Another war movie, but starring a resurgent, Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson… 4

Enjoyment
Well-crafted, taut with emotion, but vaguely directionless. Foster’s a blinder, though. 3

In Retrospect
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

Zombieland

What you gonna do when your town – hell, your world – is besieged by zombies? Well, call Woody. Harrelson, that is (though we wouldn’t mind watching the Allen variety psychoanalysing the fucked-up undead for an hour or two). Harrelson may be the dippy funnyman we all remember from Cheers, but by all accounts he’s got one heck of a right hook. Just ask the paparazzo he landed a knuckle smash to in April this year. The actor’s excuse for the bust up? “I wrapped a movie called Zombieland, in which I was constantly under assault by zombies, then flew to New York, still very much in character. With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo, who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie.” Imagine that went down well at the station.

Filmed around Giorgia, USA, Zombieland pits a rag tag band of humans against an emerging army of flesh-munchers. But if you’re sensing a certain degree of ‘deja so?’, you’ve not seen Harrelson’s Tallahassee, a Steston-toting redneck at the centre of the wretched resistance. He’s also on a personal mission to find the last Twinkie on the planet. “Ma mother always told me, ‘Some day you’ll be good at something’,” simmers Tallahassee as he brandishes a rifle. “I don’t think she coulda guessed that somethin’ would be zombie killing.” The arsenal at his disposal? Machine guns, pianos, fairground rides… you name it, he’ll use it to bash in the brains of anything lacking a pulse.

So, could this be America’s steroid-pumped answer to that other renowned zom-com? Director Ruben Fleischer certainly believes so. “I like to think of it as Midnight Run with zombies,” he says. “It’s the story of these two unlikely people that go on a road trip together. Woody Harrelson is this zombie-killing badass and then Jesse Eisenberg is this sort of wimpy coward and they have both managed to survive.”

Rounding out the cast are a notably more mature Abigail Breslin, and current horror pin-up Amber Heard. Thus far we’ve only glimpsed the trailer, but with its mash up of zom-brats and comedy slow-mo chases (all set to Van Halen’s rocking ‘Everybody Wants Some’), Zombieland could just be the sleeper horror hit of 2009. As for the rumour that Bill Murray has a zombie cameo, Fleischer’s keeping schtum. “I guess you will just have to go see it!” Bet Tallahassee could get it out of him.

Via Total Film