There are those movies out there that trade in emotional weight rather than guns and action. The Messenger
takes a close look at the raw emotions of loss and death, while also portraying the tolling effects on those people who have to deliver the message. While on the surface this could become a pretty morose affair, and there is no denying that this look has some dark overtones, it does a lot to wrap the truth of death in a empathetic way. Ben Foster
(Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery) is thrust into the role of a Casualty Notification Officer after surviving a life threatening injury in Iraq where it is revealed that many of the people under his command are killed in combat. The reality is that he is not able to come to terms with being called a hero, when he feels that he was the cause of a fellow soldier's death. Under Woody Harrelson's
command (Captain Tony Stone), Foster is quickly taught to have a sense of detachment to the process when it is apparent that all people involved are rocked to their core witnessing the intense pain and heartache.
Beneath the layers of the job itself, the movie portrays a deep sadness in both Harrelson and Foster. Both struggle with their own sense of duty clashing with the compassion that is innately present when delivering such news. Foster, having lost the one true love that he had, becomes attached to a recent widow, Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton
), trying desperately to find some meaning in his life when death seemed so welcoming just weeks before. The connection between both of them is immediate, but the reality of her grief becomes the biggest obstacle to overcome. Their relationship becomes a central crux of the movie that changes the dynamic between Foster and Harrelson, ultimately peeling away the layers of walls that they have both put up around themselves eventually exposing their own raw emotional truths.
Much has been said of Harrelson's performance, and it would be hard to look past the depth that he is able to portray. The strict sense of protocol that he embodies his job with contrasts the true pain that he has not dealt with yet. Hints of this slowly eek out as the movie progresses, and you get a sense that this exterior is a paper-thin veil masking the truth of himself. It is the friendship that evolves between him and Foster that becomes the most captivating part of the film. With each passing day, they manage to become necessary to each other in the most unusual way, but it becomes readily apparent that they depend on each other to get through the process of what they do. The job itself, forcing both of them to deal with the baggage that they both carry.
It is hard not to find this movie truly captivating, and the performances are all heartfelt. This film is more about the emotion behind each soldier, and that is refreshing as so many films of this nature do not manage to really explore this part of the human psyche. For a moment I was able to empathize with every one of the characters as the director humanizes each of them. Going much deeper than actions and words, it treats the audience intelligently without driving an overarching theme into the ground. The truth is, this film only asks the viewer to become a fly on the wall and watch the story evolve. This is a story as much about the loss as it is about finding a way to face the pain and accept the realities of life.