Despite it seeming a bit flippant in attitude at times, and rather cliche and simplistic to boot, there is a deeply felt psychological resonance in Oren Moverman's The Messenger. It is the story of Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, a returning army hero, who is assigned to the unenviable task of telling war widows and grieving parents that their husbands/children have died in the line of duty. The twist comes when Will (played in stoic attack mode by Ben Foster) finds himself falling for one of the widows he has the misfortune to inform about the fate of her late husband. It is in this budding romance that lies the emotional crux of this strange little film - even if one is prone to forget such a thing now and again.
It is the trepidation and strangely taboo chemistry between Foster's Staff Sergeant and Samantha Morton's widow that makes Moverman's film resonate as much as it does, but it is Woody Harrelson's turn as Will's commanding officer that steals the show every moment he is on the screen and therefore runs away with Moverman's film. Where the budding couple are the heart, Harrelson's deeply wrought characterization is the actual guts of this dangerous little film. In the end though, whether one goes with heart or soul (aka, Harrelson's gutsy performance) the film works on its own bizarre merits. Moverman's darkly (and would-be disturbing if not for the aforementioned flippancy and simplicity) nuanced directorial debut (he is best known for his screenplay, alongside director Todd Haynes, for Haynes' brilliantly deconstructive I'm Not There) may seem rather flippant at times, but once one delves deep enough they will see a moving work of emotional art, unlike any other "war" movie out there. [12/27/09]