Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quick Look: The Messenger (2009)

The debut feature from Israeli director Oren Moverman, The Messenger, is a well-written, exceedingly well-performed drama that follows two soldiers – a young man (Ben Foster) and a middle-aged vet (Woody Harrelson) – on assignment as the bearers of bad news to families whose loved ones have just been killed in action. The scenes that follow the men into the homes of the recently deceased to deliver the news are perfectly written and performed howls of pain. These are electrifying moments of human drama, of suspense and anguish, of deeply humanizing expression. But ultimately, the greatness of these scenes has a strange effect of making the film its own worst enemy. Outside of these perfect moments, the movie has a captivating, endlessly watchable nature, but it’s never as good as its own best moments. The story meanders a bit, fleshes out its lead characters and introduces new ones, including a widow played by the always perfect Samantha Morton, but the movie never quite adds up to a cumulative effect. Moverman directs with a clean, even-handed style that sits back and observes the characters as they go through their lives. This is a deeply political film, yet it is depoliticized. There is no heavy-handed moralizing or clunky speechifying. It’s simply and powerfully a look into the human cost of war. When the movie is at its best, it’s staring unblinkingly at the moments just before a family will be devastated by tragic circumstances and then keeps the cameras rolling as the reactions set in.

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