The Messenger

Apologies if we already have a thread for this film. Neither Google nor the internal search function turned up any mention of it at all.

I just saw it this afternoon. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it – it’s not that kind of film – but it was definitely worthwhile. Ben Foster is excellent as the central character and conscience of the film, and Woody Harrelson has quite possibly never been better, turning in a solid dramatic performance both sympathetic and off-putting.

The story itself is an at-times-heartrending deconstruction of the matter-of-fact business of death and glory in the military. It explores the psyches of wounded warriors and the people they love, and the way they handle grief.

I found it a great look at the carnage of war, without even one speck of blood on screen. Late in the film, there’s a battle as vivid as anything in Black Hawk Down, that’s recalled only as a story told by Foster’s character; the action is left to the viewer’s imagination. There is only one instance of gunfire, and it’s a 21-gun salute.

It’s a shame this film is in such limited release (BoxOfficeMojo has it earning only $722k as of Thursday).

I’d write more but I’m getting hassled by the dogs to go for a walk. I’ll have to come back to this later.

The Messenger would have worked just fine as grief porn, just as topical as Up in the Air. You really can’t go wrong taking a good actor and putting her in a scene in which you tell her that her son/husband/brother is dead (cf. the pretty bad remake of Brothers, in which Jake Gyllenhaal does something interesting in the scene in which he finds out his brother was killed in Afghanistan). And there are some really effective scenes like that here.

It’s also like Up in the Air in that it has some strange characters who it can be hard to relate to. But unlike Up in the Air, they’re not loveable and quirky. They’re obviously damaged. They’re unpredictable. The Messenger is more like a buddy cop movie, but with some really weird character beats.


It’s ultimately about Woody Harrelson’s shame and Ben Foster’s anger. But neither of those character traits is worn on the sleeve. In fact, these two damaged guys go through most of the movie denying these central facts about themselves. When The Messenger finally gets around to its obligatory confession scene – it’s the battle Omniscia is talking about – it’s almost too much for the movie and the characters to take. They have to retreat to separate rooms and be alone. It’s a fantastic moment and a really poignant end to what could have otherwise been a typical confessional monologue.

I also love what The Messenger does with ambient sound. It’s alive with the noise of radios, televisions, other people’s conversations. It creates a sense of a crowded busy world full of diversions, occasionally interrupted by a death thousands of miles away.

I really liked this movie and I struggled trying to get it on my top ten list for the year. I hope it gets called out during the Academy Awards, for either of its main actors, for its script, and especially for its direction.


“What sorority are you girls with?”

I jumped into this thread thinking, “The Luc Besson Joan Of Arc movie?” You can imagine my relief.

I did too, and it didn’t help that the first post could almost work for that movie, too.

Yeah, I was going to add that. The sound really impressed me, whether it’s birds chirping in the background, the distant clanging of a pinball machine – barely audible over the equally muffled Brian Wilson song – in the bar scenes, or the hum of a streetlight in the darkness. There was never a moment of silence, even when nothing was happening. The world at large went on, even as individual worlds crumbled to pieces.

I’d love to go into more detail, but I don’t want to spoil it since it seems like the kind of thing barely anybody’s seen. I mean, I went to a Saturday afternoon matinee, and there were maybe 25 people, total, almost all of them over 50. What does it take for a film like this to find an audience?

And though I totally neglected to mention Samantha Morton, she was also excellent. Hers is a nuanced performance, of small movements and little outward emotion, but no less expressive for it; her eyes, and subtle shifts in muscle tension (especially in her face), speak volumes.

“They are people, not like you” Will shouts to Stone. Stone then pauses, thinks about it and shoves Will’s head back into the 2x6 and storms off.

It’s interesting that you bring up “Up in the Airp”, Tom, because I do think Stone is just doing his job. He doesn’t have an emotional investment. He knows it’s a very important job and he’s doing it following procedure.

When Will shows up, you can tell he’s not going to completely follow the procedure as he flips through the manual casually. I’ll have to disagree with Sinnick in the other thread (QT3 Podcast) where he states Stone is doing it wrong. I believe Stone is doing it the only way he knows how because it’s kept him emotionally safe for the time he’s been doing it. He didn’t experience the war, really, and he’s frustrated by that.

When Will does tell his firefight story, my thought is Stone breaks down because it’s an emotional release that’s pent up inside of him which finally breaks free.

I really like all the variety of the notifications, but you know it only scratches the surface on how many (4,000 and counting) there must be. I thought they were done very respectfully and really let you into that world. When they were talking about Vietnam, it reminded me of “We were Soldiers” and I wonder if that movie influenced the writers at all. The time they go to the base and all the women are in the playground and stop to watch them walk down the street felt like that could play out in any era.

This was a great movie, everyone should watch this.

The Messenger floored me. Well done, sirs and madams. It’s on Netflix instant play. You will not be disappointed. The subject matter is both heavy and worth it.

Mmm, I think I do agree with this though. I agree that Stone was doing the only thing he knew how to do, I just don’t think that was a very good way to do it. Tom had a good point in that other thread however, which makes my original view a bit more complicated – the scene where Stone mentions how he has changed his original approach because “It’s not about me” at least shows that he is trying to take his work seriously. However, I think that the way he held back empathy from people when they needed it most was both wrong, and an artifact of his own personal demons. Will wound up handling the notifications more delicately.

I am fully willing to admit that this says just as much about me as someone else’s interpretation says about them, though ;).

Is death one of those demons? I like you bringing up empathy. Will has no family (to speak of at least) and yet has empathy. Is it his experience which gives it to him? Stone hasn’t really experienced it first hand like Will did. From his reaction to Will’s firefight, I wonder if the movie had continued, would have we seen Stone handling the notifications differently?

Doesn’t sound like we’re talking about the Joan of Arc movie.

— Alan
“An injured U.S. soldier, Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), is paired up with by-the-book Capt. Tony Stone (Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson) to notify families of killed soldiers – a job that bonds them as they debate different views on serving America. At odds at first, the two find common ground while facing life’s variety of battles.”

Finally got around to seeing this, and really liked it. Foster and Harrelson are both phenomenal. Moverman’s direction is quite assured for a directorial debut, and as Tom noted, he makes excellent use of ambient sound throughout the film. It certainly wasn’t a happy film by any means, but unlike my experience watching The Descendants the other day, I didn’t feel absolutely bummed after watching it. Moverman uses moments of levity to give to the film a very naturalistic tone, and it doesn’t ever feel like he is trying to counterbalance for the solemnity of the subject matter; rather, this imbues the characters with a very palpable humanity.

The one thing that bugged me was that Montgomery’s explanation of his own lack of heroism in the third act seemed to come of nowhere. But that might be more me expecting something from the movie that was not there, like a more conventional drama rather than the buddy movie Tom describes this as. And I have a feeling the film would probably tie together better if I were to rewatch it.

All in all, a very interesting look at a world I hadn’t considered much previously, and a smart examination of the various ideological struggles and debates that occur inside a community.