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The Messenger

I went to the cinema at the last minute today and ended up going to see this based on the fact that Woody Harrelson was on the poster and the alternates looked boring.

Luckily enough it was damn, damn good. The film centers around two soldiers, a gulf war 1 veteran played by Woody Harrelson and a recent Iraq veteran played by Ben Foster who have the unenviable task of delivering the bad news to the next of kin of deceased soldiers. It is not quite apparent in the opening scenes of the film, but the two of them deliver some of the best on-screen chemistry that I’ve seen recently.

The standout moments of the film are when the pair of them deliver the bad news. It is hard to convey in words quite how loaded these are with raw emotion, and a handful of quite brilliant cameo performances. The moment is depicted in quite a few films, but the intensity of these scenes renders them bland in comparison. The skill of delivery is in the details, for instance the way in which they flex their fingers waiting for the door to open. Foster, the lead, is entirely convincing as a soldier torn between trying to re-connect with the civilian world, yet shoe-horned into a role that requires him to be entirely inhuman in response to recently bereaved parents. His failure to successfully navigate this line leads to his entanglement with Samantha Morton’s character. The oddity of this plotline is that while roughly fifty percent of the scenes feel unrealistic, both actors manage to keep their characters entirely believable.

I think this film is going to be important, because like The Hurt Locker, it is one of the films coming from the War on Terror that doesn’t echo the divisions in society at large over the wars themselves. Even though there’s overtones of Jarhead (“All I ever wanted was to get shot at, is that too much to ask?”) the film’s focus on the neutrality of the main characters means that there is no room for polemics and grandstanding. This restriction allows the characters themselves to develop and play themselves out/tear themselves apart without reducing the film to a “war is bad”/“support the troops” tagline. Because of this, the film can explore the contentious issue of the dying soldiers without inspiring groans from either side of the political spectrum. This film might have zero bangs (and studiously avoids violence) but I think it will require inclusion into any future collection of War on Terror films. I haven’t seen a “home front” film to equal this in recent years.

To sum up, though it occasionally loses itself, it’s still well worth watching.