Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Distributor: Oscilloscope Pictures
Release Date: November 13, 2009
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 105 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

War is the subject of countless films over the years, many of them classics. In fact, just this year alone, two of the most talked about and best reviewed films of the year, Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” presented unique views on combat (and in Tarantino’s case, history). The third war film in awards contention this year is a bit under the radar, but Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger” deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as both “Locker” and “Basterds.”

Ben Foster shines in the leading role of Staff Sergeant William Montgomery, who left his girlfriend Kelly (Jena Malone in a brief but effective performance) when he went to Iraq. Wounded in battle, Montgomery is back in America with three months left to serve in his tour, and is given the job of telling people that their loved ones have been killed in combat.

His partner is Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a former alcoholic who has never seen combat but is an expert at delivering bad news. “No hugs,” he warns, as he details the methods in which they break people’s hearts. “I won’t be giving any hugs, Sir,” Montgomery sternly replies.

The two men have an uneasy relationship at first, but it would be difficult not to form some kind of relationship given the nature of their jobs. The reactions they get from people vary from tears to outright aggression. That’s why both men are taken aback when Olivia Pitterson (the great and underrated Samantha Morton) takes the news without causing a scene, and even shakes their hands to thank them. “I know this can’t be easy for you,” she says.

Both men have reactions to her, though they are quite different. Stone eventually goes back to the bottle, while Montgomery uneasily tries to start a relationship with her. While Montgomery overtly cares for her, Stone has had many more years of suppressing his emotions and internalizes his feelings. Watching Foster and Harrelson convey these emotions is simply stunning; it is the best performance either man has ever given. Morton also delivers another Oscar-worthy performance as I continue to wonder why she isn’t a bigger name.

Amongst so many great performances, Steve Buscemi shows up for just two scenes, but they are two of the best scenes filmed this year. They are absolutely heartbreaking in their sincerity and a reminder of what a great actor Buscemi is.

Moverman (who penned the Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There”) seems to have an innate understanding of the military man’s mindset, which makes sense given that he spent time in the Israeli army. He and co-writer Alessandro Camon don’t inject any false sentimentality into their script, and the actors play the scenes without over-the-top histrionics.

It may be lost in the shuffle behind “Hurt Locker” and “Inglorious Basterds,” but “The Messenger” is worth seeking out – it’s one of the best movies of the year.

Theater: Ruth Sokolof Theater, Omaha, NE
Time: 645 pm
Date: December 6, 2009

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