Inspiring Conversations

The Messenger

  • SumoMe

I thought it was going to be 2 hours of bad news when I was asked to attend the screening of The Messenger. But all that became unimportant when the film started rolling in the theatre hall during the 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2010.

By Penny C

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) has returned home from Iraq. He has 3 months left in his enlistment and is drafted into the Army’s Casualty Notification Service where he and fellow Officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) bring news of death to families of deceased soldiers. They aim to be the first to report the news and do it with respect for those lost in battle. Montgomery and Stone relay the bad news according to procedure – no physical contact with families, no obvious sympathies only straight forward, well rehearsed scripted messages of death. Walk in, speak and leave. Sounds easy as pie? Not when when you’re faced with pleading eyes and shrieks of painful, destitute cries.

Montgomery thinks with his heart while Stone, like his name, keeps his distance from emotional situations to get the job done. This contrasting pair soon take their places as the left and right brain as Montgomery learns how to wear a poker face and Stone continues to keep professionalism. They enter happy, unsuspecting neighbourhoods where soft music plays from the ice cream truck and children’s laughter fills the backyards. But no one smiles when they see two stern individuals in crisp uniforms.The two soldiers are thrown into emotional situations they can’t control and are greeted with initial welcoming how-do-you-dos that morph into hysterical cries and painful heartbreaks.They retain their posture and bite their tongue when distraught families whip them with insults flushed in raw anguish.

Surely though, this film can’t be entirely about bad news – that would be too depressing. In between negativity and away from regal uniforms, the film effectively shows how the partnership between Montgomery and Stone transforms into friendship as they hang out together for common guy talk and begin to share their life with each other. Don’t get so attached to your job, some may say. But when you’ve got one like this when good news never happens, it’s difficult to ignore what it does to you. So as the film plays on, Montgomery finds ways to console the disheartened, to the extent of befriending a widow named Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), whom he had delivered news of the death of her husband and helps her with the chores.

The Messenger is an astounding insight to a job where no one else wants to pay attention to. The story is seamlessly played out, consoling sadness with the hope of fresh beginnings and the cruel but realistic effects war has on soldiers and their families. Every soldier in this department is clearly hurt by news of death but because of procedure they are unable to show concern for the devastated families.

Being able to withstand bloodshed and survive in a war zone, it’s not uncommon to think that soldiers are invincible. But everyone has a story and soldiers are human beings too – no one wants to fight and people get scared; there’s none made of iron.

Compelling and brilliant. The Messenger deserves every encore.

Yep: Heart wrenching dialogues and this other side of reality.
“In case you feel like offering a hug, don’t.” – Stone
Thumbs: 5 out of 5

The Messenger official trailer

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