If a large number of people went to see a Bruce Willis action film, it’s a safe bet that 99.9% of them had the same experience whilst seeing said film. That is to say, the same emotions (or lack thereof) were invoked, the same conclusions were drawn, and although no life-altering revelations were made, a good time was had by all. The fact that this was very much not the case with The Messenger struck me more than anything else. Upon entering the theater, the experience gained by watching this film would depend entirely on the individual moviegoer. A war veteran would have a vastly different experience than a left-wing liberal, a mother who had lost a child to war, or someone who had no discernable connection to anyone in the armed forces. The acting is phenomenal to say the least, and although Woody Harrelson is being trumpeted as a potential Oscar winner, in my opinion Ben Foster is the true show-stealer. Foster’s performance as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery is both potent and moving, and should not be missed.
So many films have been made which chronicle tales of war, but not in recent memory has one chosen to focus on the soldiers saddled with the responsibility of telling families their loved ones have been struck down by war. The Messenger is full of poignant moments and beautiful lighting choices, and best of all manages to give the audience the freedom to make of it what they will. Rather than a gritty portrayal of human atrocities, director Oren Moverman focuses on a vast spectrum of human emotion and the unspoken connection that can be found in atrocious conditions. This respectfully unbiased look at the effects of the Iraq War on both the enlisted and civilians alike isn’t terribly in-depth, but thankfully this quality works to its advantage. It allows the viewer to feel wholly invested in the characters for the duration of the film, yet leave feeling unencumbered by the usual war monstrosities.