Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Oct 25th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Loud And Clear

film_Messenger2Foster terrific as conflicted war vet in spare, moving 'Messenger'

There are many kinds of collateral damage in warfare. The character played with such stoic complexity by Ben Foster in The Messenger is poised to experience, or at least witness most of them. As the title character in Oren Moverman's rigorous and insightful debut feature, Foster plays a wounded Iraq War vet serving out the rest of his tour back in the States, notifying loved ones that their sons, husbands and fathers have been killed in action.

Scripted by Moverman and Alessandro Camon, The Messenger honors the sacrifices of servicemen and women and their families, while at the same time exposing the true cost of war, and the bitter reality beneath the patriotic hype and hoopla. It also provides a sensational vehicle for Foster, after years as a young male ingénue and second lead, who recently wowed audiences as a psycho villain in 3:10 To Yuma. With the graceful subtlety of his performance in The Messenger, Foster proves he has the presence to command the screen.

Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Foster), a decorated Iraqi war hero, has come home with a bad eye, a bum leg, and three months left to serve. He and his brisk, chirpy childhood sweetheart (Jena Malone) no longer have much to say to each other; in fact, she's moved on to a more reliable fiancé. Then the brass assigns a reluctant Will to the casualty notification unit, the most onerous job in the Army, and teams him up with his new commanding officer, Gulf War veteran Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). It's a plummy role for Harrelson, who plays it with panache, the tough guy and gung-ho company man, precariously on the wagon, who drills the rookie in the details of procedure. (Like "no touching the NOK"— Next of Kin—and "no hugging.")

The job is more grueling than anything Will could have imagined. The messengers not only have to cope with the shrieking despair of the NOKs, but sometimes their violent rages, as well.

("Coward!" spits the great Steve Buscemi, in a cameo as  newly bereaved father, at Will. "Why didn't you die?") Stone salves his pain over the job with an ongoing scenario about faithless widows who already have "a new man on the clothesline," and cynicism. (Noting that people always act surprised when soldiers die, Stone cracks, "What'd they think it was gonna be like, Fear Factor?"). But Will's response is to man up for the task, and bear the unbearable.

Both men are caught off guard one day by Olivia (Samantha Morton), a new widow they've come to notify, who reacts with a show of fragile poise and unexpected empathy. ("This can't be easy for you," she acknowledges.) Will, who has never had much of a home life, is  drawn to Olivia; he admires the strength with which she handles her young son, and the spirit with which he sees her chase off a pair of Army recruiters who have cornered a couple of teenagers at the mall. Although it defies procedure, he keeps circling back into her orbit.

The ever-shifting dynamic between brash Stone and the more reserved Will keeps things moving. When Stone declares, "They should show every soldier's funeral on TV"—to dramatize the magnitude of the waste—who could disagree? But Moverman occasionally allows Harrelson's glib, profane grandstanding to overwhelm his otherwise spare and trenchant story. (A pointless, alcohol-fueled excursion to a lake, and the boorish crashing of Will's ex's wedding party belong in a movie with far less integrity.)

film_messengerMuch more credible is the hesitant relationship between Will and Olivia as each tries to understand what they want and need from each other and themselves. But in the end, the film belongs to Foster, whose late-inning revelation as to why Will thinks he's the right man for his harrowing job—and how it might redeem him—give the story its quiet, resonant power.

THE MESSENGER ★★★ With Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, and Samantha Morton. Written by Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camon. Directed by Oren Moverman. An Oscilloscope release. Rated R. 112 minutes.

 

Watch movie trailer >>>

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Santa Cruz Restaurant Week

A huge part of Santa Cruz Restaurant Week has always been about offering a great dining experience for an affordable price. For some locals, the $25 flat-rate cost has provided the opportunity (or the excuse!) to try new spots, and indulge in Santa Cruz fine dining in a way they might have thought too pricey before.

 

Scorpio Sun, New Moon Eclipse, Mercury Direct

The Sun enters Scorpio’s mysteries Thursday under a new moon and partial solar eclipse (something essential has come to an end, its purpose completed). In Scorpio we harbor secrets, are devoted to something deep, dark and hidden. Sometimes it’s ourselves. We can bring great suspect to our assessment of others. Scorpio is the scorpion, the serpent and the eagle—three levels of development. As the serpent we take shelter in our beliefs. Sometimes we bite (or sting). The eagle vanquishes old beliefs through its sharp intellect, soaring high in the air, seeking to understand through perspective. Understanding releases us from the bondage of fear. The eagle is like the mother soothing feelings of mistrust, offering protection. Knowledge does this, too.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Light Humor

College comedy questions a post-racial America in ‘Dear White People’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Back Porch

Austin Kaye on backyard dinners and why it’s his favorite time of year to be a chef

 

What’s the most outrageous situation you ever saw at a restaurant?

Damani Thomas, Santa Cruz, Chef/Owner

 

Wine Lust

The Spanish Godello grape, plus arancinis, tender butter lettuce and pork schnitzel at Soif

 

What artist or artists participating in the encore weekend of Open Studios should not be missed?

Santa Cruz | Teacher