Monday, December 28, 2009

The Messenger **

Director: Oren Moverman
Cast: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton
Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi, Eamonn Walker

Three months before he's done with service, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Foster) suffers an eye injury that sends him back to the US. He's placed in a casualty notification team for the remainder of his time in the army with Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson) a harsh, detached man for whom delivering news of death is just another duty.
Will, with his baby face and sensitive grunts feels that Tony's inhuman delivery of news is a disservice to the family of people he knew in Iraq. Tony, who has never been in combat, despite having been in the army at least two decades longer than Will has the steely purpose of a robot and tells Will that rule number one in their job is to never make physical contact with the people they're talking to.
With little regard for subtle dilemma, the screenwriters (Moverman and Alessandro Camon) establish a ying-yang dynamic that in another genre would serve as comedic relief, but in an independent moody drama can only mean ominously forced empathy.
In that way we see as Will and Tony deliver news to all kinds of people, each vignette becoming a who's who of multiculturality and familiar background (to remind us of course that the army isn't just made up of people like the main characters).
Before long we also enter into their private lives and see Tony as a recovering alcoholic for whom sex with young women is both entertainment and a way to keep him grounded.
Will enters a troubling situation when he becomes interested in Olivia (an extraordinary Morton) a young widow he delivered the news for.
Before long the film shifts the importance from the families to the messengers by using unoriginal manipulation techniques.
In one scene Will does weights at the gym when his pager beeps him, he continues lifting with anger and sorrow. The exercise meant to represent the weight of the world on his poor Atlas' shoulders is merely a distraction from the fact that the people whose lives he will break into perhaps are the real ones who had no choice to make. Not to mention Will's eye condition which requires him to use eye drops that fall like tears down his cheeks when he's not supposed to cry or feel anything.
Entire families are destroyed by children who enroll and must go to wars they don't understand, but Moverman doesn't understand this.
His movie offers no possibilities for those for whom the very existence of the army and foreign invasions are a mystery.
Harrelson and Foster are quite good in their roles and bring their characters closer to the impartiality the director never bothers to.
Harrelson plays Tony like a time bomb even if the screenplay takes him to the oh so overused element of "he must have a big secret that wounded him and makes him act like this".
While Foster's troubles, we might believe, come from the fact that his ex girlfriend (Malone) is about to marry another guy.
The fascinating limbo that exists in the fact that soldiers can't return to their ordinary lives is lost in the film's big "the Army takes care of you like a family" discourse and what should've worked like an apolitical essay turns out only to be a buddy/road movie that has us waiting when Will and Tony will realize they're maybe alike, share a hug, a beer and move on to the next house.


Luke said...

Uh-oh... looks like you're one of the many who are disappointed with the awards fare this year. Going totally obscure for your best of the year picks?

Jose said...

If by obscure you mean European then I guess that's where we're headed. My four star movies should give you an idea of what kind of things will be in my top ten. I've been very disappointed by most stuff so far though, what an odd year for film.

Castor said...

Disappointing because the premise of the movie, delivering the news to the family, has a ton of potential for a powerful movie. I remember reading an article about it that left me uh... very emotional. I'll try to dig that out for you.

Castor said...

There, I found it. It's a pretty long article. Save the PDF file if you'd like to read it. It's very much worth the 10 minutes.

Castor said...

Forgot the link ...

Jose said...

Fascinating article. Those guys have terrible jobs. Thanks for sharing!