Lowdown: A wounded American soldier back from Iraq has to deal with the new task of telling families their loved ones died in service.
A good friend of mine from the Israeli army was offered the task of letting families know of army casualties at his city of residence. This was to be his sole army reserve duty; he will not be called to do anything else for the army, ever. He turned the offer down, declaring himself unfit for the task.
The Messenger looks at a similar scenario in which the soldier does not have a choice but to accept the assignment. Will (Ben Foster) is an American soldier back on home soil following serious battle wounds in Iraq. His life is like his body: he spends his nights agonizing his neighbors with loud music, and for sex he does the old girlfriend who is with another man since he left for Iraq. With only three months left on his enlistment, Will is given a new assignment: support Captain Tony (Woody Harrelson) in his work of initiating first contact with the families of deceased soldiers in order to be the first to break the bad news to them.
The core of The Messenger takes place during the breaking of the bad news and in between. As can be expected, there is never a good time to break news of such grave nature to anyone, which paves the way for some excellent performances by everyone involved (most notably Steve Buscemi as an angry father). These scenes really tore this viewer’s heart, making me contemplate how hard accepting such news would be if I were to be on their receiving end. I was also paying tribute to humanity in general: after all, up till a hundred or so years ago, death really lurked behind every corner. Children commonly died at a young age and most adults did not see past forty. There was a time, not too long ago, when the grief portrayed in The Messenger was a regular part of life rather than the exception.
Anyway, I’m straying. The other half of the film deals with the way our own messengers deal with their line of work. At first, Will follows Tony’s instructions on avoiding personal contact. His inherent humanity prevails against his captain's inhumanity, perhaps aided by some good old sexual attraction as Will gets closer to a war widow (Samantha Morton). While in this half, we are violently exposed to the dark side of our duo in a manner that often actively references Apocalypse Now. Obviously, this part of the film tells us a lot about human nature; I couldn’t help feeling this part sags compared to those tearful scenes of messengering that surround it.
Best scene: Pick any of the bad news breaking scenes. They’re all great emotional drainers.
Technical assessment: The picture on this Blu-ray is quite mediocre, looking as washed out as the characters are. The sound is nothing special but is suitable to the task at hand.
Overall: I felt like The Messenger was a tale of two halves. Some moments were great cinema, others were ordinary; I’ll go middle of the road here and give The Messenger 3.5 out of 5 stars.