The powerful civilian war drama “The Messenger” is playing exclusively at the Gateway in Fort Lauderdale, with wider release coming.
Though it is by no means a feel-good movie, “The Messenger” stands head and shoulders above other films being released locally this weekend.
Newcomer Ben Foster is a marvel as Staff sergeant Will Montgomery, a tightly-wound, combat-wounded, Southern-born American G.I. and Iraq War hero. Sgt. Montgomery is winding up his duty stateside with the difficult, unwanted assignment of delivering the bad news of the death of fellow soldiers to widows, family and friends as part of the Army’s Casualty Notification Service. Oscar buzz for Foster as Best Actor began when the film premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Woody Harrelson gives one of his the best performances of his career as Capt. Tony Stone, Montgomery’s stern, stony and hard-drinking superior officer and veteran bearer of bad news.
“Avoid contact with the next of kin (NOK),” Stone warns the rookie. “No hugs or consoling, and absolutely no interaction or involvement with their personal lives.”
Despite a rocky start, Montgomery learns there is a method to the Army’s madness: he is surprisingly good at dealing blows as humanely and professionally as possible while enduring all manner of physical and emotional abuse.
Then Sgt. Montgomery meets Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), a new widow with a young child.
A forbidden friendship blossoms between Montgomery and the new widow parallel to a friendship that grows between him and Capt. Stone.
There is very little black and white in the story co-written by director Oren Moverman (with Alessandro Camon). Just as Capt. Stone is not as bad as he first seems, so the grieving widow Olivia may not be as virtuous as she first appears.
Samantha’s heart-rending performance is a reminder the horrible residual effects of war. The physical cost can be measured in dollars, but the emotional damage is in calculable.