Review: ‘The Messenger’

Becquer Medak-Seguin

This year, for reasons unbeknownst to me, has given rise to undoubtedly the best fictional films about the Iraq War. The first, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, about a bomb disarming squad, should effortlessly win Best Picture at next year’s Oscars (that is, if the Academy doesn’t choke), yet Oren Moverman’s The Messenger is, arguably, not too far behind.

“Oren who?” you may ask. Well, The Messenger is Moverman’s first stab at feature film directing. He has written a few screenplays, perhaps most notably the 2007 Bob Dylan biopic/pseudo-montage I’m Not There, but nothing big. After such stunning opener, however, it is likely Hollywood producers will great him with (somewhat) open arms.

The Messenger, starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, tells the story of two members of the Army’s Casualty Notification service and the (pretty and ugly) ways in which they cope with delivering the worst possible news to family’s of Iraq War soldiers. Fortunately, the film presents a brand of patience and repetition that could only come from the armed services. The audience, appropriately, doesn’t learn much about most of the families the protagonists meet, yet the few minutes when they are with them are more than enough to capture the bitterness, anger, anguish, and dejection with which they receive the awful news.

Many of the lines don’t feel too contrived, though, in several spots, the plot may veer toward clichéd territory. Nonetheless, it will likely make some sort of mark in this year’s awards season as voters may be looking to this film for a sorry excuse at being “patriotic.” The film may be “patriotic” in that it represents the military and its families honestly and justly, and in that, in my opinion, it provides quite a damning critique of our military, especially socially, but let’s hope voters don’t use it (and The Hurt Locker) as some sort of political pawn come March.

In sum, see this film for its nuanced representation of the U.S. military. Honestly, at times it is devastating and depressing, but, in the end, it becomes sobering and enlightening. People may talk about it for a while.