The Messenger Directed by: Oren Moverman Cast: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton Running Time: 1 hr 45 min Rating: R Release Date: December 4, 2009
PLOT: Sergeant Will Montgomery (Foster) and Sergeant Anthony Stone (Harrelson) are the "angels of death" task force charged with notifying army families after a soldier dies in battle. That is the surface plot--the underlying plots involve coping with grief and loneliness, connecting with other human beings, and coming to terms with life-changing trauma.
WHO'S IT FOR? Everyone. Anyone who can see an R movie should see this film.
EXPECTATIONS: I'd not heard of it and I figured it had to be tolerable, because I always expect good things from Woody.
ACTORS: Ben Foster as Will Montgomery: Who? I thought to myself, going into the film. I looked him up--some movies in production now and...30 Days of Night. So far, not good. But Montgomery is spectacular. Maybe spectacular isn't the right word, because it denotes grandiosity and his performance is so quiet and subtle and perfect in every way, shape, and form. Montgomery is phenomenal in The Messenger. He nails this role so effortlessly and there is absolutely nothing glossy or self-conscious about him. I look forward to seeing where his talent takes him. Score: 10
Woody Harrelson as Anthony "Tony" Stone: I could watch Harrelson in a role like this for hours straight and not even notice how much time has gone by. I felt the same way with Harrelson in No Country for Old Men; he has a presence that is so incredible, it's almost off the charts. Harrelson goes beyond "insanely good" into "ridiculously good," as someone who talks a big talk, but when it comes down to it, they're badly damaged goods. Stone grows on you and the burgeoning relationship between he and Montgomery (Foster) is utterly pitch-perfect. Score: 10
Samantha Morton as Olivia Pitterson: Casting Morton as Olivia was just as sublime as the rest of this film, because she's normal. Don't mistake that as something insulting or reductive--this movie requires actors that can capture your normal, every day American. If you cast the anorexic glam type in this role, it unravels the delicate balance of the whole film. Morton is lovely and sweet, but she falters just a little whenever she strays outside of her character's shy parameters. Still, just an excellent performance along side a slew of excellence. Score: 9
TALKING: The dialogue is fantastic and the actors add a lot of depth to deceivingly straight forward lines. The script's only fault is that it borders on hyperbolic at times. When Olivia talks about how her husband's shirt "smelled of fear and rage," it didn't quite fit the rest of the scene. Score: 9
SIGHTS: The tone of the film is stark, which is complemented by equally gloomy colors. There is a lot of gray and shadows and any typically vibrant colors are subdued and washed out. The editing is perfect, the shots never venture into pompous and unnecessary experimentation, and the scenes are presented with as much straight forward skill as the rest of the film. Score: 10
SOUNDS: The score doesn't play a huge role, although the use of "Home on the Range" during the end credits was a nice touch. Will listens to heavy metal whenever he's in his car or in a funk, but the movie doesn't thrust it at us to convey its message. Normally, I'd give a perfect score to a soundtrack that is worth purchasing, but the music blends in just right. Score: 10
BEST SCENE: There were several scenes that I'd call tied for favorite, but in the interest of not spoiling the newness, I'll pick one: when Will tries to talk his way out of the job, he says, "Sir, I've never received any grief counseling, let alone given it." Foster delivers that line with so much depth and you can see traces of tears in his eyes. Phenomenal. The scene where Will tells Tony about what happened to his squadron in the war is also wonderfully acted and written.
REWATCHABILITY: Definitely, yes. In fact, this is the first movie of all the movies I've reviewed that I would want to own.
I get teased a lot by the other scorecard reviewers (mostly Bayer) for either hating a movie with an unhealthy intensity, or loving it so much, I can't see the forest through the trees. That being said, I'm not backing down from this one. Is it possible that I'll talk it up too much and then someone will feel let down by a movie that is, at its heart, a subtly brilliant slice of life? Surely, but I don't really care. I thought this about No Country for Old Men, but I have yet to say it out loud. So here goes: if you don't like this movie, you're an idiot. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it just means you're not a functional or useful member of our society. I hope that doesn't come off as too judgmental.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10