If there is one film genre that gets no love from the public, it’s anything to do with the Iraq War. The Hurt Locker earlier this year might change that if it gets some Oscar love, but another film may break the cycle as well.
Woody Harrelson and the handsome Ben Foster (Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand) costar in Oren Moverman’s The Messenger, a touching look at the war from the eyes of the people left behind at home.
It’s hard to think of a storyline more fraught with scenes of human drama: Officer Will Montgomery (Foster) is paired with the hardened Lt. Stone (Harrelson) to finish out his tour of duty notifying the next-of-kin that their loved ones have died in Iraq.
I was a basket case after the first encounter, a heart-rending meeting with Portia and Yaya DaCosta (All My Children) as the mother and pregnant girlfriend, respectively, of a soldier killed in action. Steve Buscemi and Samantha Morton play two of the next next-of-kin in equally emotionally gripping scenes. While Stone has hardened himself against the job, Montgomery knows that their duty lies in giving the family some brief flash of human compassion.
Moverman’s film is paced in a leisurely way that allows us to really meet and know the two men, and understand the scars they carry from their war experiences. Each man is changed by the other, and their relationship is real and involving. I hope Oscar voters consider the great performances by Foster and Harrelson.
The Messenger is a good tool for supporters of “Don’t ask-don’t tell” — after watching the film, anyone would think twice before joining up.
UPDATE: The Messenger is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.