— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —
What do the films “2012,” “Zombieland” and “The Messenger” have in common?
Yes, they all star Woody Harrelson, but they are also all apocalyptic films in one way or another.
No, “The Messenger” does not portray wide-scale natural disasters or hordes of the walking undead, but instead Captain Tony Stone’s presence is the meteor that hits the planet Earth for many unsuspecting American families.
Stone and his partner Sergeant Will Montgomery usher in a “personal apocalypse” for the family-member that is about to hear that his or her loved one has been killed in combat.
Oren Moverman’s directorial debut is bound to be compared with Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker.” Both of them portray some of the military’s unrecognized heroes, and both feature complex and interesting leading characters, but “The Hurt Locker” is no doubt the better war-film. This is for one reason. It sets a goal of being a film about an unconventional bomb-technician and it never strays.
However, “The Messenger” starts off being a film about a duo of Causality Notification Officers, but it almost abandons the idea altogether to add a love-interest that is about as deep as a city pot-hole and as interesting as a lemon-skin.
Will Montgomery is a decorated war-hero, but with three months left in his service, he is assigned to the stoic Captain Stone. His mission being notifying family-members of the deaths of their loved ones. Luckily Stone treats every one of his visits like a mission and offers Montgomery a word of advice “no hugs, no contact.” Going against his partner’s wishes, Montgomery gets involved with one of the widows that he meets.
The problem with “The Messenger” is a problem that another recent film “The Box” had. It is the fact that the second half feels like a different film. There are scenes that explore Montgomery and Stone’s unlikely friendship, but most of the time is dedicated to exploring a boring romance. It’s a shame because Stone and Montgomery are such developed characters, but here comes Emily, who is played by Lisa Joyce, that is basically the helpless widow of a slain soldier. It is also a shame that director Oren Moverman did not explore the job of Causality Notification Officer even further. It was such an interesting premise and its just unforgivable to have it shamelessly abandoned.
Acting is strong from the two leads. Woody Harrelson gives one of the best performances of his career, and Ben Foster is equally strong, making it easy to forgive his involvement in the atrocious “Pandorum.” There are no real notable supporting roles, but this is mostly due to the unmatched impact that Stone and Montgomery leave as leads.
“The Messenger” does deliver a message that the “war back home” is just as emotionally tolling as the war on the front-lines. The only problem is I’d want some more exploration into the message. It’s an emotional drama at times and a dull romance at others. However, Ben Foster’s and Woody Harrelson’s power performances make the film worth watching.
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