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Directed by Oren Moverman
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All through the 1990s, the ads for the army, the navy, the marine corps and the air force were full of the wonderful values of joining them in peacetime. You could get an education, paid for by the service, you could travel to exotic places, and so on.
Now it’s 2010 and we’re fighting two wars at once, and guess what? People get killed all the time. That’s what you join the Army for, to kill or be killed. And “The Messenger” is the story of two men who are detailed by the Army to notify next of kin that their son or daughter has just been killed in action. The unlikely team are Ben Foster, as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, and Woody Harrelson, as Captain Tony Stone. They park around the corner from their targets, they march up to the front door, they identify that they’re talking to the next of kin, they blurt out the script: “We regret to inform you that your son or daughter was killed in action yesterday; the Secretary of the Army extends his condolences to you, and within four hours you will be contacted by a service member who will help you with funeral arrangements.” There is to be no touching, no extemporaneous addition to the script, and then the two of them leave the house.
They do this day after day. One day their next of kin is Samantha Morton, a mother with a young child, to tell her that her husband has been killed. Something about her touches Will, and against his own orders and her own reluctance he finds a way to keep seeing her. Meanwhile Tony, an ex-alcoholic who’s also a lifer in the army, begins to slide off the wagon himself. “The Messenger” is the story of what happens to each of them.
Woody Harrelson’s performance has been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor this year. I think he’s been let down a bit by the script, by Director Oren Moverman, because it plays a little too one-note and becomes a bit wearysome long before the end. Nevertheless, “The Messenger” is a good kind of corrective to those old ads and commercials about the exotic places you could go if only you joined. You still can go; now they’re called Iraq and Afghanistan.