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The Messenger

(No longer in theaters)
  • Rating: R — for language and some sexual content/nudity
  • Director: Oren Moverman   Cast: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Eamonn Walker
  • Running Time: 105 minutes
  • Reader Rating: Write a Review


Drama, Romance, War


Benjamin Goldhirsh


Oscilloscope Pictures

Release Date

Nov 13, 2009

Release Notes


Official Website


The premise of Oren Moverman’s The Messenger is enough to scare people off. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) returns from Iraq a hero and accepts a job on a “casualty notification” team, delivering news of a child’s or spouse’s death. What makes the film very fine is its complicated perspective. We stand with the messengers, observing the objects of their missions with empathy and (enforced) detachment. These people take the news in vastly different ways—with tears, always, but sometimes with fury and violence. Their grief is all their own. Montgomery’s seasoned partner (Woody Harrelson) counsels him to keep his distance, but Will can’t pull deep enough into himself. He fixates on a widow (Samantha Morton) with a small child, and in scenes both creepy and moving (it seesaws), he begins a courtship.

This is a breakthrough role for Foster, whose face is tight but whose emotions bleed through. He has a tattoo reading BAD MOTHERFUCKER but needs to keep dabbing at his torn left eye, which weeps. Harrelson’s gonzo soldier has so many layered defenses you wonder how he can ever know his own heart. The actors playing parents and spouses (among them Steve Buscemi, Halley Feiffer, Portia, and Kevin Hagan) are stunningly believable. I’m not sure how Morton made sense of her character’s ebbs and flows, but I never doubted her. She’s a mariner in uncharted seas of emotion.

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