Oren Moverman’s The Messenger is about Will Montgomery, an injured Iraq vet (Ben Foster, TV’s Six Feet Under) who returns home and is assigned, under the supervision of a Captain played by Woody Harrelson, to Casualty Notification: the gruelling, horrible task of telling war widows that they’ve been made widows. It is a powerful, moving companion piece to Brothers, an American remake of Susanne Bier’s 2004 film of the same name, even while it’s superior to that film in nearly every respect—not least in its dual lead performances, which are truly phenomenal. Add to those Samantha Morton as a recent widow for whom Will develops forbidden feelings, plus bit parts by Jena Malone and Steve Buscemi, and the film becomes a gem.
In many ways, The Messenger—the story it tells, and the way it tells it—is the converse of every tense, near-explosive moment depicted in Kathryn Bigelow’s masterpiece The Hurt Locker. This is Moverman’s first film as director after having been a screenwriter for many years—he wrote 2007’s Married Life, and adapted Denis Johnson’s short story collection Jesus’ Son for the screen in 1999. His direction here is assured and as controlled as Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography is sombre and astute.
The Messenger is out now on DVD and Blu-ray through Madman; the film came out in the US in November of 2009 through Adam Yauch’s Oscilloscope Laboratories but, as with so many great films, never received a theatrical release in this country (to the best of my recollection; it may have played in the NZIFF). Extras include an audio commentary with the director and his crew, and two featurettes: Going Home, an on-set diary, and Notification, a short documentary about the real work depicted in the film.