Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson star in film that begins well but let down by an unfocussed second half
The Messenger is the perfect example of a film of two halves. The first segment is breathtaking, as injured US Army Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is reassigned to the Casualty Notification Team. Partnered with career soldier Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), Will discovers that it’s their maudlin task to inform relatives that their loved one has been killed on duty.
Typified by their encounter with a distraught father (Steve Buscemi), the first hour is devastating – with Harrelson’s immaculate turn entirely justifying the Oscar nomination he received for this film. Co-written and directed by Oren Moverman, who previously co-authored Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan film I’m Not There, the script bristles with finely honed lines (‘I’d like to strap her on and wear her like a government-issue gas mask,’ says Harrelson, eyeing up a waitress).
Sadly, the film falls apart dramatically in the second half, while Will enjoys a romantic encounter with a recently bereaved widow (Samantha Morton). Meandering when it should be focused, this meditation on ethics and grief never really fulfils its early promise.
Selected release from Fri 27 May.