The Messenger

The Messenger is a film about two casualty notification officers, Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) and Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), who notify the next of kin when a soldier has died. Will is new to this job, though highly decorated from his combat duty, while Tony has been doing it for some time. It turns out that while war is hard, people and relationships can be harder.

Overall I was glad I saw it. To me the performances varied, sometimes being very good and other times seeming a bit off. There was a fair amount of SpastiCam™, in case that bothers you. And I noted that I looked at my watch a few times. But still I will give it out of .

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell, CA on 10/18/2009. The writer/director and Woody were supposed to be at the screening, but that fell through. Instead we heard a pre-recorded interview with Club director Tim (there may be spoilers below, and it’s possible that some of these notes were not from the interview):

  • The film won the Silver Bear at Berlin
  • Soldiers who have done notifications would rather go to war
  • This is a film about the consequences of war, but is not political (according to the director)
  • Woody wanted to do it from when he read the script
  • He visited Walter Reed, Fort Dix, etc. to spend time with soldiers
  • The film needed humor because the viewer needs relief, but the soldiers do too, so it’s real
  • Woody says it’s the first time he has cried for real on camera
  • The notifications are based on real cases, but the rest is fictional
  • Question to Woody re: legalized marijuana: He referred to the war on non-corporate drugs, or something like that
  • This film was actually embraced by the military, perhaps partially because the director was in the Israeli military
  • Will’s character name was inspired by a badly wounded soldier they met
  • The film was originally to be directed by Sydney Pollack–the writer/director did not originally intend to direct it himself
  • The soldiers doing this work do not have very much training–certainly not psychological training
  • There are no easy answers
  • The scene where Will almost sleeps with the girl is a 9 minute continuous take

Here are a couple of audience reactions:

  • An audience member who has received a visit from notification people said this film was right on
  • The mother of a 20-year career military person said that we hear about the numbers of dead and wounded, but we don’t hear about how the soldiers’ lives and those of the people around them are affected
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