The Messenger, The (Blu-ray Review)17 May, 2010 By: Mike Clark
Box Office $1.1 million
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Stars Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Jena Malone.
It’s a dreadful and far too frequent job that someone has to do, and we’ve seen it treated time and again on screen at least peripherally, as in Saving Private Ryan. But to my knowledge, here’s the first time that a movie has focused its full intensity (the operative word) on those soldiers whose duty it is to report the deaths of other soldiers to their families and loved ones.
In an Oscar-nominated performance that proves once again what a malleable actor Woody Harrelson has become (think No Country for Old Men merely as a jump-off reference point), the onetime “Cheers” chuckle-maker plays a booze-battling military veteran whose duty it is to convey official sympathies and train others to do the same. In this case, the wounded trainee (Ben Foster) has partaken in combat that Harrelson’s character has not, serving out the remainder of his hitch immersed in a duty he adamantly doesn’t want to perform. House-to-house misery prevails, and how could it be otherwise?
Go by the book, knock on that front door, and read the official words: This is what Harrelson advocates, and there’s no question that he’s a total pro. Foster’s character, however, can’t help but project his own experiences upon his current duty. He finds himself getting involved with a war widow (Samantha Morton) — a situation decidedly not by the book.
If there’s a knock to be had on the movie — which is among last year’s best — it’s minor: The earlier scenes are so powerful (including a killer with Steve Buscemi as a loved one who turns belligerent) that the rest of the movie can’t quite equal them. These include an interesting set-up that deals with a young woman (Jena Malone, now in full-fledged adult roles) who just might be the one to help Foster purge his demons. But the relationship just isn’t to be, and we know right off this is going to be one melancholy story (as it should be).
The DVD/Blu-ray extras include a commentary with Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, first-time director Oren Moverman (let’s keep an eye on him) and producer Lawrence Inglee; an interview of key filmmaking personnel (many the same as before) conducted by Variety; reflections from the set; plus a documentary on the U.S. Army Casualty Notification Officers — a fascinating subject and an experience you have to believe nags from here to eternity at those chosen to undertake it.