Thursday, January 7, 2010

Did You Get My Message?

At the strong recommendation of my friend Cary I saw the Messengers a new film by Oren Moverman. I was reluctant because of the film's premise, which follows a young soldier who after his field duty he is drafted to be part of a two-man team who are given the supremely unenviable task of informing families of deceased soldier's of their passing. Rough material to say the least. The film however has several aces up its sleeve; sharp writing, brilliant performances and subtle direction.

Moverman, a writer who has worked on some very clever, adult (in terms of maturity, not content) scripts (Jesus' Son, I'm Not There and Married Life) serves as a co-writer here with Alessandro Camon. The script, aware of the challenging subject matter is carefully not to turn the proceeedings into a desolate mire through the most depressing depths of the human condition. What could easily be an exercise in miserablism is surprisingly brisk and darkly funny. The comedy comes largely from Woody Harrelson who is continuing a banner year with his role as Captain Tony Stone. Stone is the type of professional who works hard and plays hard. His training of new recruit of Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (a consistently reliable Ben Foster) vacillates with moments of stone-faced sincerity to gleeful needling. Both Stone and Montgomery are well devised characters with struggles and motivations that are clear, but not unbearable.

The two leads are not the only performances worth savoring. Samantha Morton plays a widow who has a considerably surprising reaction to the news and forms a morally challenging bond with Foster's character. Additionally Steve Buscemi and Steve Friedman show up as other informed family members and do a great deal with limited screen-time. Moverman could easily make this one episodic encounter after another and just drag the audience down with his characters. It never happens. Instead the characters grow and learn from each encounter along with the audience.
The film shares something in common with another excellent 2009 Iraq war film, The Hurt Locker. The film does not force a view point on the audience, rather it allows for the viewer to watch and make decisions without any sort of lecturing or posturing. While the film does convey a very humanist take on the cost of war it is also content in showing an enormous amount of respect for soldiers and their codes of conduct. The film is a small one but it has a large impact and I urge you to not let the premise halt you from seeing one of the year's best character pieces.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Lovely film. Foster and Morton particularly were outstanding [no mention of Jenna Malone?]

El Gigante said...

She's fine but she didn't stand out compared to the other actors. Don't get me wrong, I like Jenna Malone but it's not her movie the way it's the others.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Yeah, her role is more of a cameo. But I was impressed at the maturity she showed, hopefully she can go on to get better roles.