Film review – The Messenger (2009)

The Messenger: Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson)
Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson)

Discharged early from serving in Iraq, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) returns home to the US and is assigned to Casualty Notification. Partnered with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), Montgomery learns the procedure of informing families that their loved ones have recently died while serving as soldiers. The Messenger is partly a strange and dark buddy film and also an incredibly moving examination of grief and anger.

Director Oren Moverman shoots the casualty notification scenes in unedited long takes so that they play out in real time. It’s a confronting effect and the scenes are made all the more powerful by the performances. Harrelson was nominated for an Academy Award for this film but everybody is excellent including Samantha Morton and Steve Buscemi in supporting roles.

As well as being very entertaining, The Messenger is commendable for how it beautifully humanises the soldiers. They may be tough guys with a hardened exterior but underneath that they are repressing an enormous amount of pain. This is a great anti-war film examining the residual effect of war on the people who fight it and the people who are left behind.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 367, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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