Fri 20 Nov 2009
An Army of two?
There have been a number of films about soldiers returning home from conflicts abroad, where their readjustment to society is made difficult by the events that transpired and actions they may have undertaken. Director/co-writer Oren Moverman took a somewhat different spin on things though when putting together “The Messenger”.
Rather than the same issues involving a transition between military and civilian life, in the film Ben Foster plays a staff sergeant, commended and wounded while performing his duties in Afghanistan. He still has time left to serve and is assigned to the Casualty Notification Office. Teamed up with a veteran of the trade (Woody Harrelson), they deliver the awful news to families regarding the death of their loved ones in the name of their country.
Obviously a difficult job to perform, it is in these scenes that “The Messenger” shines. Foster and Harrelson do their best to remain at an even keel while grief-stricken girlfriends, wives, mothers and fathers have their lives ripped apart. All of the actors concerned in these scenes (including an excellent supporting performance from Steve Buscemi) deliver the kind of pain and anguish one would expect from these moments.
This new job assignment creates a new path for Foster’s character, who is struggling to reconcile what happened overseas and has trouble being designated a war hero. A broken relationship with an already spoken for woman (Jena Malone) and a budding and potentially disastrous relationship with a soldier’s widow (Samantha Morten) only complicate matters.
Foster capably handles all of the stress and emotional burdens involved and his ability to maintain a restrained fury is nicely displayed in the role. This might just be the role to help break him out to bigger roles than the largely supporting fare that he’s been a part of over the last few years.
Harrelson is well cast as the offbeat, some might say psychologically disturbed mentor figure. His folksy sensibility provides a great counter balance to Foster’s brooding persona. I still enjoy his performance in “Zombieland” a but more because it’s so fun but it’s roles like these that serve as a reminder to his acting ability, which is often forgotten because of his penchant for choosing goofball roles.
Samantha Morten and Jena Malone ably handle their roles as the people driving Foster’s emotional struggles. Each provide a different perspective to his psyche and as a testament to their abilities and the script, either could have supported an entire feature film revolving around their involvement with Foster.
“The Messenger” might not get a lot of marketing or media attention but it’s sure to factor into many critics’ top lists for 2009. A 4 out of 5, it’s intimate examinations of people in film like this that keep the landscape interesting and help counter balance the big budget special effects spectacles.