- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

“This mission is not simply important, it is sacred” says one officer to Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) in the opening moments of “The Messenger.”

The mission in question? Delivering killed-in-action notices to the deceased’s next of kin.

Montgomery is joining Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) in this sacred duty. For Montgomery, it’s one last mission: Injured during a tour of duty in one of the current conflicts, he’s just biding time until his enlistment is up. Stone is there to show him the ropes and provide a steadying hand during the sensitive assignment.

The story that follows tracks both Montgomery’s efforts to re-connect with the world he left behind when he shipped out and the difficult duty he has been assigned. Dealing with the emotions unleashed when family members are told a loved one has been killed in a distant land is no simple task.

Montgomery grows attached to Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), whose husband has been killed. Intrigued by her reaction to his death — and looking for an anchor while readjusting to life in America — Montgomery seeks her out romantically, following her progress as she absorbs the emotional toll of her husband’s passing.

For a movie that deals with a theme as somber as this, there is a surprising amount of humor. The relationship between Stone and Montgomery goes from guarded to friendly to revelatory as the two become more intimately acquainted.

But this remains a heavy movie, and that weight is expressed through the performances. Mr. Foster has an intense presence; there always seems to be a fire burning within him that he’s struggling to contain. With his slight tics and aura of barely suppressed rage, you half expect him to go off on a post-traumatic rant at any moment.

Sometimes the intensity works, as it does in a nine-minute take that closes the movie (and his relationship with Miss Morton’s character). Other times it seems a little off, a mannered distraction from the on-screen action.

Mr. Harrelson, meanwhile, adds just the right amount of bluster and comic timing to the picture to keep it from getting too heavy.

If “The Messenger” has one major flaw, it’s a sequence near the end when Montgomery discusses the actions that led to his injury and the handful of medals he received as a result. Moments like these often feel a mite inauthentic and somewhat forced, and this one is no different. Merely talking about bravery in this context is inadequate; the only way to get it across convincingly is to show it, as Kathryn Bigelow does in “The Hurt Locker” and Ridley Scott did in “Black Hawk Down.”

That aside, “The Messenger” is a successful examination of the harsh realities of war that too often are put in the back of people’s minds.

★★★
TITLE: “The Messenger”
RATING: R (language and some sexual content/nudity)
CREDITS: Directed by Oren Moverman, written by Mr. Moverman and Alessandro Camon
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
WEB SITE: https://www.themessengermovie.com/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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