The Messenger (2009)



Critic Consensus: A dark but timely subject is handled deftly by writer/directer Owen Moverman and superbly acted by Woody Harrleson and Ben Foster.

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An Iraq War veteran who just narrowly escaped death in combat struggles with his new post at the Casualty Notification Office while anticipating his upcoming discharge in this military drama starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, and Samantha Morton. Will Montgomery (Foster) has spent his fair share of time in army hospitals, and with just three months to go before returning to civilian life, he discovers that his girlfriend back home (Malone) has decided to move on with her life. Crestfallen, Will discovers that his latest hope for a fresh start will be training to work for the Casualty Notification Office under the mentorship of senior officer Tony (Harrelson). As someone who had a close brush with death himself, Will isn't sure that he's the man to tell families that their own loved ones will never be coming home. Thankfully, in between his assignments, Tony offers a sympathetic ear and the two men form a bond that will ultimately help them to readjust to "normal" life. But once you've been in the thick of it, any true hope for a "normal" life after the military is just wishful thinking. Later, Will is drawn to the grieving widow (Morton) of a fallen soldier, a development that forces him to ponder the ethical dilemma of starting a relationship with a woman in such a vulnerable position. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
R (for language and some sexual content/nudity)
Drama , Romance
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Ben Foster
as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery
Woody Harrelson
as Captain Tony Stone
Samantha Morton
as Olivia Pitterson
Jena Malone
as Kelly
Eamonn Walker
as Colonel Stuart Dorsett
Steve Buscemi
as Dale Martin
Yaya DaCosta
as Monica Washington
as Mrs. Burrell
Lisa Joyce
as Emily
Paul Diomede
as Motorcycle Cop
Peter Francis James
as Dr. Grosso
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News & Interviews for The Messenger

Critic Reviews for The Messenger

All Critics (157) | Top Critics (35)

[An] unpredictable, episodic, deeply resonant character piece.

Full Review… | June 14, 2011
Time Out
Top Critic

The bombshell is the news of a soldier's death and the delivery of that message is the heart of this unsentimental, yet deeply moving, story.

Full Review… | February 26, 2010
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

The film is premised on the verbal communication of urgent information, yet its many non-verbal moments provide the greatest strength and clarity.

Full Review… | February 25, 2010
Toronto Star
Top Critic

Harrelson gives us layers of hurt under a callous yet needy crust. It may be the best performance of his career and certainly deserves Oscar consideration.

January 27, 2010
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic

With the insight and sensitivity of an insider, The Messenger illuminates the sometimes invisible victims of war -- the survivors -- and a pain that is tolerated but never quite healed.

January 14, 2010
Miami Herald
Top Critic

At its center lie three accomplished performances, by Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton, that are not to be missed.

December 10, 2009
New York Observer
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Messenger


A decent character study whose main strength lies in the great performances by Foster and Harrelson, who shine in a sad story that deals with the psychological consequences of a terrible job, but the film also suffers from a tiresome pacing and some unnecessary scenes.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


We've seen countless war films about the battlefield, filled with graphic and shocking images that depict war as the ultimate hell on earth. Some of those films (Saving Private Ryan, Platoon) are incredible while others (Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor) are not. The Messenger is a film that doesn't concern itself with the battlefield. It is about the aftermath, when soldiers are employed to visit the families of those killed in action and give them the horrible news. It is an undoubtedly gripping picture, filled with moments of mourning, sadness, and insanity. The story is ultimately about grief that never goes away but has to nonetheless be overcome. Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, and Samantha Morton give career defining performances. This film is an absolute masterpiece that portrays the "war is hell" theme in a way that truly has never been seen before in film.

Edward Boxler
Edward Boxler

Super Reviewer


More often than not, when a film that is a wartime drama gets released, it usually focuses on the battlefield, and the horrors of war. Not all, but many. This is one of the few that focuses on what hapens after all that, when the news that no one wants comes, and the men who are assigned to deliver it. Sometimes sad, sometimes bitter, sometimes even a bit funny, but definitely real, this is an excellent docudrama about Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery- a wounded veteran home from Iraq with three months left until his service is up. To finish out his time he is assigned to the Casualty Notification Office where he is sent out under the guidance of senior officer Capt. Tony Stone to notify family members of the deaths of their loved ones. The film focuses on this painful but necessary part of life, as well as the effect it has on both men, each with their own set of issues and the various ways they try to cope with them. At times this can be a very gut and heart wrenching film, and really awkward and uncomfortable, but it is presented in a respectful manner with characters that are very well developed and interesting. The script is very sharp, and the direction, as I said, gives it a feeling of realism that can be hard to endure, but never exploitative. Ben Foster once again proves he is a really talented person to watch, and he gives a fantastic performance filled with pain, emotion, and sympathy. Woody Harrelson shows that he can be brilliant no matter the size of the part he plays, or how much screen time he has. He brings an effective sense of weariness and experience to things. He and Foster have great chemistry together, and I'd love to see them work together again. Samantha Morton (whom I didn't recognize at first) is amazing as a widow who develops an odd rapport with Foster's character after he informs her that her husband has been killed overseas. Jena Malone takes what could have been a one note role ( Will's girlfriend who can't handle being with him anymore so she leaves him) and gives it more depth and substance. Steve Buscemi shines as one of several characters (like Morton's) who receive a visit from Stone and Montgomery and deals with it in a way that is very memorable and moving. This film avoids dealing with politics and the validity of war, and instead focuses on the people. It's a very moving indie drama that, as the directorial debut of screenwriter Oren Moverman, could be the start of a very great career for him as something other than a writer.You should definitely give this film a watch. It's quite compelling and kept me interested the whole way through.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

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