The Iraq & Afghanistan conflicts have produced some remarkable films (The Hurt Locker, Restrepo) that take us to the heart of the action in ways that are almost unimaginable. There are also those that have exposed the most appalling state sponsored human rights abuses (Taxi to Dark Side, Standard Operating Procedure) that once seen are never forgotten. And then there is that steady flow of films (Iraq in Fragments, Route Irish) that look beyond direct enemy confrontation with an equally important story to tell. A recent example is The Messenger, the debut film from the former Israeli soldier turned scriptwriter, Oren Moverman (I’m Not There) that is in danger of slipping below the radar due to painfully slow distribution.
The messenger of the title role is of the most unenviable kind, a member of the casualty notification unit responsible for informing strangers that their loved ones have been killed in action. Ben Foster plays a highly decorated but injured Staff Sargent no longer considered fit for front line duty and semi-pensioned off against his will. Something is badly wrong, but Foster only gradually reveals the extent of his character’s post-traumatic stress with a performance of considered maturity.
A recovering alcoholic captain shows him the ropes. Looking every bit a throw back to the fierce Nam psycho officer, appearances prove deceptive. Mechanical, ritualistic, but there are hints of warmth once the layers of institutional armour peel away. Hilarious and tragic at one and the same time, Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of this deeply flawed character received an Oscar nomination.
No words are necessary of course, when these solemn faced uniformed soldiers appear on doorsteps but they have to go through the motions. The Captain is a stickler for following army rules; only speak with the “NOK” – next of kin – recite a set “The Secretary of Defense deeply regrets…” speech and have no physical contact. Hugs are a hanging offence.
An uneasy friendship emerges based on mutual self-loathing. Think of an updated version of the desperate buddies from Seventies’ road movies but with commensurate character developments saving it from cliché. The film is often at its most revealing in the moments that they overlook each others indiscretions.
Sandra Morton is very good as a new army widow drawn to the staff sergeant but never crossing the line of respectability. There is also an astonishing cameo from Steve Buscemi as a distraught father who metaphorically shoots the messenger and regrets it later.
An intelligent film that engages emotionally with loss in many forms that earned Oren Moverman & Alessandro Camon a Silver Bear at Berlin International Film Festival 2009 for best screenplay.generic cialis uk supplierscialis for sale in usabuy cialis europegeneric brand for yasmin cost of yasminorder yasmin birth control buy yasmin birth control pillsyasmin pill price uk generic name for yasminprice of yasmin birth control