What is the shittiest job you can think of? Well probably you’re cow thinking about people working in filthy environments and such but chances are you’re not thinking about the people who inform relatives of soldiers on a tour about the death of their loved one. But let’s face it, it is a shitty job. Every day you get the bring people the news they don’t want to receive and they never saw coming. But as the saying goes: it’s a dirty job, but someone has got to do it.
In The Messenger US Army Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is back home from Iraq after being injured to an eye. Back home he gets the task to serve in the Casualty Notification Team under Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) who teaches him the precise protocol to bring this news. The scenes where these two do their job are the strongest and the variety of reactions in some cases fascinating.
But the movie needs more to fill up its running time and so both soldiers have plenty of issues. Both have somewhat of insomnia and while Montgomery is dealing with some kind of post traumatic stress and Stone is of course a recovering alcoholic. Both have no real relationships until the script-writers decide to give Foster a love-interest in the form of a woman he has given the news that her husband has died in combat. And yes that is as awkward as it sounds. I must say that I applaud the casting of Samantha Morton as the widow as she not only has a natural look as in most scenes she has basically no make up, but also is definitely more rounded than the average love interest in Hollywood movies and she reminded me of Katie Featherston from Paranormal Activity. Casting a woman like this brings a movie a greater sense of reality.
The fate of the two lead characters becomes less interesting during the movie as it strays too much from the basic set-up of “Messenger fall in love with the woman he informed of her husband’s death”. The vacation of Stone and Montgomery together, the wedding crashing etc, it all takes the focus of the movie’s center point. It has a strong first half, but becomes less involving the more it reached the end. It does have a proper ending, but I would rather have seen some of the story-lines cut out to be replaced by footage of what happened after the end of this movie.
Despite the interesting subject matter and even the interesting love-plot The Messenger is not the master piece it could have been. It tries to set up a romance and a bromance at the same time which makes both of them fighting for screen time. The script-writer has made the error that layering a character means giving him flaws, but even if you do go that way the recovering alcoholic has been done to death in movies. But the movie’s first half is very strong and the scenes in which the do their job have an emotional impact. The movie is carried by two strong actors who would have flourished more with a better story.