Friday, December 4, 2009

The Messenger

Oren Moverman's "The Messenger" contains pain, and you can see why and yet cannot even believe that Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) gives the advice to not get personal when telling the "next of kin" that their loved one has died in service. How could you not interact? Yet at the same time, it's something unbearable to see. Stone has calculated this throughout his years, and passes it on to Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), who seems like a hardened person when we see him at the start of the film.

But he, as anyone else would besides Stone (who Montgomery calls out as being inhumane), starts to sympathize with the people he is indirectly victimizing, especially Olivia (Samantha Morton, playing a sort of annoyingly unreadable yet very awkward type), who he helps far beyond the dreadful notification. She's the only one whose story we get to hear in great detail (in one relentless shot). All others are given to us in small doses, which are used in the screenplay to make the suffering all the more real. Now that I think about it, the stories are kind of cliche and contrived (of course some happen like this, but it feels old at the cinema), but the sadness is all too real.

The scenes from which the film derives its name and which the film is pretty much based upon are sad, especially the first, which uses a bait technique to gain tension but still provides some pretty devastating moments. You think what's imprinted into the mind of one of these "messengers" and, although not life-threatening, a comparison to the war would be very fitting, while obvious and probably already used in countless reviews of this film. I wasn't wildly excited about seeing this film due to its look on paper, but I guess you can't really transcribe what's here down. You have to show it, since it's human emotion.

The real reason I saw it, like many others, was due to the National Board of Review's award of Best Supporting Actor to Harrelson, which most definitely translates to Oscar nomination (one less spot for Paul Schneider, who prognosticators like EW still count in there, but who really seems to be heading out of the race). Harrelson goes into the role well-cast, as there is a jokey yet serious type needed here, and he delivers in that respect. He does some fine acting here, not in the same range as some others this year, but not bad. He uses his persona, which was truly patented this year with "Zombieland," but I guess does some other things, too. Ben Foster is pretty decent as well, playing a hardened guy who sounds weird when he yells and who really faced some traumatic horrors when on duty. But he's not talented enough to really shoulder the load at the end, where I agreed with my moviegoing companions who said it wasn't up to snuff with the beginning. Another point of one of my fellow moviegoers: too long. 105 minutes is long and hard here. "The Messenger" got and engaged me for long stretches, which is valuable, but not enough. B-

1 comment:

aspergiansarah said...

Oh, this one looks like a real upper. Actually, I plan to watch it, but I don't think the kind of folks who like feel-good romantic comedies will like this.

Don't spread the word but I feel like crying as soon as the black woman slaps him and 'Amazing Grace' starts playing *in the trailer.* For shit's sake, who would choose a job like those army guys do? Was that their idea?

And I thought I was quickly and efficiently becoming dehumanized like 'normal' people.