The Messenger

2009

The Messenger

Critics Consensus

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

89%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 157

75%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 21,575
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The Messenger Photos

Movie Info

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

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Cast

Ben Foster
as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery
Woody Harrelson
as Captain Tony Stone
Samantha Morton
as Olivia Pitterson
Eamonn Walker
as Colonel Stuart Dorsett
Steve Buscemi
as Dale Martin
Yaya DaCosta
as Monica Washington
Portia
as Mrs. Burrell
Paul Diomede
as Motorcycle Cop
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Critic Reviews for The Messenger

All Critics (157) | Top Critics (39)

Audience Reviews for The Messenger

  • Mar 24, 2013
    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 B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 16, 2012
    I found this to be a great picture from beginning to end. I enjoyed the performances from Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. Foster and Harrelson would reunite once again in Oren Moverman's second picture Rampart. Being a messenger in the Army's Casualty Notification service must be one of the most toughest jobs to endure unless one absolute have no feelings amongst the familes of their dead loved ones and it's amazing how the two leads endure that tough, heartbreaking assignment.
    Brian R Super Reviewer
  • Jun 29, 2011
    A Iraq War veteran works as a fatality notification officer under the tutelage of an equally damaged officer. The highlights of this film are the performances by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson who both deliver strong, understated characters who are both deeply hurting and emotionally reserved. Though the penultimate, tearful breakdown by Harrelson is Oscar bait (he did receive a well-deserved nomination), the moments when they are delivering bad news to families are captivating if you watch the lines on their faces tense under their own restraint. Foster in particular is able to convey an entire story with a single look. The problems with the film are structural. It is too late in the first act before Montgomery deviates from the ethical boundaries Stone has carefully constructed. I spent the first forty-five or so minutes thinking, "This is a dramatically ripe situation, but not much is happening in the story." Then, the film tries to start a plot about an affair between Montgomery and the widow of a dead soldier, which might have worked had it been used as a catalyst for the main action. However, it comes too late, and I was never sure what the attraction is based on. Are these two damaged souls who find each other? Is his love an extension of his need to comfort? Instead of answers to these questions, what emerges is a sexual attraction that both are seemingly unable to resist, which seems weak considering the possibilities. Overall, this is a good "actor's film," but the story suffers too much to be all that it can be.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Jun 01, 2011
    War films tend to show you the brutality of conflict on the battlefield; the blood and the guts; the firepower; the fear and the bravery. Few address the conflict at home, which is quite surprising as the ones that do, tend to be raw and personal stories. This one certainly is. Decorated Iraq war veteran Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is back home and dealing with various ailments. He's assigned to the Casualty Notification Office, where he and his superior Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) have the unwelcome task of informing next of kin whenever a soldier dies. A very impressive debut from director Oren Moverman who also co-scripted but also a very bleak and depressing drama, dealing with a part of war that is so often overlooked. Foster and Harrelson (in an oscar nominated role) both deliver intense and solid performances, every time they notify a next of kin, it's unbearably nerve wracking. Each relative dealing with their grief in different ways. Some with anger and violence, some with devestation, some with remorse, but each one as powerful as the next. As the film progresses, it concentrates less on the job they do and more on their own personal suffering, and as a result, loses momentum. However, when the full extent of their own emotional suffering becomes clear we are treated to a masterclass of acting from Foster and Harrelson in what becomes a very personal moment between them. There are periodic lulls, especially when the film branches off into Foster's romantic involvements with Samantha Morton and Jena Malone but these lulls are coupled with sporadic moments of brilliance. Ben Foster is steadily building a reputation for himself with his consistant portrayal of tortured souls and Harrelson - although not always a favourite of mine - is really starting to win me over with his shrewd choice of unselfish roles. Stark and hard-hitting but the performances from the two leads and the raw emotional power it posseses make it quite captivating.
    Mark W Super Reviewer

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