Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Messenger: Grade C

The Messenger (2009)
Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi; Co-writer & Director Oren Moverman.

Two army soldiers (Harrelson and Foster) have the job of informing NOKs (Next of Kin, in military acronym-speak) when a soldier has died. They knock on the door and recite a bland script conveying the Secretary of the Army’s regrets. The interest comes in the family’s reaction. But how many times can you show the same drama and keep it interesting? There are only so many ways it can go. Nobody is going to be happy to hear the news; everyone is going to be upset, emotional. Poignant as the scene is, after four or six episodes of the same routine, the viewer is ready to quit. Thus, the thin premise cannot bear the burden of a feature-length story.

Harrelson’s acting is the main reason to stay on. He does a first-rate job, with considerable range, the best acting I have ever seen from him. The story does develop a bit, with Foster’s character establishing a friendly relationship with one of the NOKs (Morton), but not much happens there. Foster’s acting is also strong. He looks like he has been studying Edward Norton. Samantha Morton has always been an excellent actor. She was blimped out and almost unrecognizable since I last saw her, but still giving a very good performance.

In one sense, the film is more honest about war and death than a movie like Hurt Locker, which was a cartoon full of explosions and cardboard people. This movie, where ordinary people confront the hard fact that their loved ones have been taken in the cause of war, is much more real and true. But the filmmakers did not exploit that angle dramatically, as they could have, by developing questions about patriotism, service, costs versus values, calling, and son on, so the story is just not very interesting, even though the acting is worth seeing.

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