In his directorial debut, "The Messenger," Oren Moverman takes the viewer on an emotional journey. The story follows decorated war-veteran Staff Sargeant Will Montgomery, played by Ben Foster, as he attempts to wind down his last three months in the Army. After being wounded in Iraq and returning stateside, he finds himself alone, with only an ex-girlfriend to welcome him back.
Montgomery is assigned to a casualty notification unit and tasked with notifying family members when a loved one has been killed in action. He is joined in this grim task by Captain Tony Stone, played by Woody Harrelson. The aptly-named Stone shows Montgomery the ropes of his new duty.
The power of the film comes from the emotional struggle within the two soldiers as their duty forces them to deliver devastating news to the next of kin. Displaying how each man handles the emotional demands their work places on them gives the actors an opportunity to shine. And shine they do. Both actors give exceptional performances Harrelson's Stone remains as removed from the situation as possible. Though he cares about the importance of his work, he refuses to think of it as any more than a job. Two of his important rules are not introducing himself ("I think it's rude. It ain't about me.") and no touching, short of medical emergencies.
Montgomery is much more willing to become emotionally involved with families. Despite, or perhaps because of, his own internal difficulties at adjusting to life outside of a warzone, he has a heartfelt connection to his mission and these people. After informing a woman, actress Samantha Morton, of her husband's death, he finds a kindred spirit in her, as they each struggle to come to grips with their new worlds. Both find themselves adrift with inner turmoil and pain. Through their shared relationship they find the ability to move on with their lives.
"The Messenger" serves as a heartfelt reminder of the physical and emotional cost that war takes on all those who are touched by it.
Opens Friday at Harkins Camelview, 7001 E Highland Ave., Scottsdale,
Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton
Rated: Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity