While "The Hurt-Locker," the Iraq War's answer to "Saving Private Ryan," has been getting a lot of attention during awards season, for my money, the period piece which will be better remembered a generation from now is "The Messenger." I mean really, how much creativity does it take to blow a bunch of battle-fatigued Marines to smithereens as they scour the streets of Baghdad in what looks like heat-seeking, scuba diving equipment? Sure, the graphic splatter flick certainly generates a lot of tension along the way, but who goes to the movies to sit there bracing yourself for the sight of young soldiers on IED detection duty being scrambled in an instant into unrecognizable body parts.
"The Messenger," which written and directed by Oren Moverman, is sort of a sequel to "The Hurt Locker," since it focuses on death and grieving, the unfortunate fallout of the ugly business that is war. For this reason, the film might have been more appropriately titled "The Hurt Locker 2," since the term is defined as a period of inescapable, immense emotional pain.
The buddy adventure revolves around Army Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), partners stationed stateside assigned the thankless task job of informing next of kin that a loved one has perished overseas on the field of battle. Steely Stone understands the rules of engagement, especially the one about no fraternizing with or even hugging attractive, vulnerable widows. But sensitive-type Will must have kept his fingers crossed when he made that pledge, because he has a hard time following protocol after delivering the grim news to Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton) that her husband has perished.
He offers her a shoulder to lean on, and it's not long before the suddenly-single ravishing beauty spreads her love, allowing the smitten enlisted man to enter the Forbidden Zone. Will figures all's fair in love and war, after all, his high school sweetheart (Jena Malone) hadn't had the decency to wait for him to return from Iraq. As for Olivia, her unseemly behavior is readily explained by the fact that everybody mourns differently, and there's just something irresistible about a man in a uniform.
The only fly in the ointment is the stoic Stone, a by-the-book stick-in-the-mud in a position to make his immediate inferior's life hell. Woody Harrelson earned an Oscar nomination for his inspired performance, here, and Ben Foster proves equally-deserving playing his compromised and conflicted counterpart.
A powerful, PTSD PSA for "Don't ask, don't kiss and tell" advocates.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and nudity.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 112 Minutes
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
To see a trailer for The Messenger, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MEApxjYncI