As much as I am enamoured with the Oscars and the whole idea of prestige pictures, etc & etc the ‘season’ as it is really pisses me off sometimes. The biggest annoyance seems to be how precursors play a major role in who or what are deemed as worthy of nominations and the thing about precursors is that they only seem to see a stratified set of films. Or even if they do see a film, they only see one part of it. For example, they recognise Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road and for some reason ignore the screenplay and Kate and Leo’s admirable performances. They see Closer but can’t discern Jude Law and Julia Roberts and it goes on and on. Excuse the preamble, but there’s a reason to it. Woody Harrelson has been showing up consistently at precursors for his supporting role in The Messenger, it’s the only prospective nomination for the film. In passing one would assume that it’s the only good thing about the film – and they wouldn’t be more wrong.
A year ago the average moviegoer would have bemoaned the state of modern war dramas in American cinemas. This year we’ve had The Hurt Locker and Brothers, two superior modern day war films and The Messenger is a third making it a holy Trinity. The goodness of The Messenger is almost ironic. By covering even less ground than the two it is even more affecting than them. It tells the story of a solider recently returned from Iraq [Ben Foster] who is hired by the army to deliver messages to the relatives of deceased soldiers along with Woody Harrelson. Both men have severe issues, although the film focuses more on Foster and two women in his life. Jena Malone plays his ex-girlfriend and Samantha Morton plays a potential love interest.
It’s been said before: movies are movies, they’re not real. It doesn’t take a genius to derive the truth in this, but The Messenger comes as close to reality [as I can imagine]. The humanness and the realism of the entire thing is so profound. Even stranger is the absence of any score in the film. Foster, Malone, Harrelson and Morton give mature and intense performances. The only one who can be charged with having a showy moment [a mere few minutes towards the end] is Harrelson and it’s ironic that he’s the only one getting any traction. Not to knock Harrelson, he’s phenomenal, but his performance is possibly the weakest of the four. That’s how good this film is.
The Messenger doesn’t force the audience to make a choice about the war in Iraq or war in general. It’s a film about broken people, hurting people; it’s a telling character study and an incredibly mature film. It’s one not to be missed.