As many of you know, I am a huge fan of death metal. As many of you don’t know, I also have a passion for film and I just saw what I believe to be the best film of 2009: The Messenger. I know, I know, this is a blog about death metal, so you might ask: “what the fuck does The Messenger have to do with death metal?” If you’d like to find out, continue reading after the jump.
In his directorial debut, Oren Moverman has created a masterpiece. That alone is metal as fuck. The Messenger chronicles two soldiers and their jobs as casualty notification serviceman. It is their duty to bring the news of a casualty of war to the NOK (the next of kin). Essentially, they act as angels of death, burdened with the task of delivering death to an unsuspecting family’s doorstep as if they were messengers sent from hell. Now to me, that is about as brutal and death metal as it gets.
Woody Harrelson plays Capt. Tony Stone, who took the position of casualty notification serviceman off a dare and continued after he began to receive commission. Ben Foster plays Staff Sergent Will Montgomery, who is ordered to become Stone’s partner shortly after returning from battle in Iraq. They are tasked with going door to door delivering the news of soldiers’ deaths. It is interesting to see how Stone and Montgomery each deal with grief. Stone hides behind protocol, refusing to provide any physical or emotional comfort for the soldiers’ families, while Montgomery is a walking portrait of grief, quietly overcome by his new position.
It has been quite a year for Harrelson. He gives an astounding performance as a soldier who is tough and rugged on the outside, yet on the inside stricken by the grief he sees, and unsure about how to cope. But it is Foster who shines.
Foster has had only small parts, perhaps most notably in 3:10 To Yuma, but this is his breakout role. This is the kind of role that propels an actor to stardom. Foster is given a delicate character who is battle-torn and overwhelmed with sorrow even before he takes the job, and he plays it beautifully. Montgomery is like a watch that works but doesn’t have all it’s gears in the right place and therefore, is off by the smallest of margins. Foster shows this with a precision that is unmatched. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and I can safely say, this is the best performance by an actor I have ever seen. Foster is as near to perfection as one can get.
The Messenger is packed chock-full of dramatic moments, all handled exquisitely by Moverman, but one scene in particular toward the end of the film will grip you like nothing you’ve seen before, and it’s worth the price of admission alone. It is a scene in which Montgomery shares his experiences in Iraq with Stone, who eventually breaks down in tears. Foster is astonishing here and in my opinion, this scene alone should net him an Oscar.
The Messenger is a grim and crushing film. It packs such a punch that it will leave you staring blankly at the screen until the credits finish rolling. The Messenger is one of the most powerful anti-war films I have ever seen, made all the more impressive by the fact that it doesn’t take sides and it doesn’t have to preach. It simply examines the cost of war through the tragedy of a human death — and The Messenger shows that even one death is a price too high.