It’s a scene we’ve seen in so many other movies: Two soldiers, in full dress uniform, arrive on some leafy suburban street and knock on a door. “We regret to inform you ma’am” is usually about how far they get into their message before the dead soldier’s loved ones collapse into sobbing heaps. “The Messenger” shows us just how much that job must suck.
Ben Foster plays Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery, a decorated Iraq War veteran who’s still recovering from injuries when he’s assigned to work with hard-ass Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) on a Casualty Notification Team. Will isn’t happy about it, and he has enough problems of his own without dealing with other people’s pain, but he learns the ropes from Stone, and the two start to bond after hours in bars. (And Harrelson, with his trash talk and swagger, brings a great dash of humor to what could have been an entirely depressing film.)
This 2009 film died at the U.S. box office — as most Iraq War-related films have — despite a couple of Oscar nominations, but don’t let the belated local release put you off: Director/screenwriter Oren Moverman (writer on “Jesus’ Son”) moves this episodic tale briskly along, exploring issues of duty, guilt and trust without ever becoming preachy. Also featuring Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi and Jena Malone.