CATEGORIES Reviews
Ben Foster in The Messenger'The Messenger' was a standout at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and reviews continue to be positive, with a few exceptions, as the movie hits theaters. Inspired by his own experience in the Israeli military, director (and co-writer) Oren Moverman has crafted an emotionally intense film about an Iraqi War hero (Ben Foster) assigned to the U.S. Army's Casualty Notification Service. In his unenviable task of notifying the families of those killed in action, he is partnered by an older, crustier career soldier (Woody Harrelson), with whom he forms an unlikely friendship.

Though the subject matter is uncomfortable, critics generally agree it's handled nicely, while the performances of Foster and Harrelson are almost uniformly praised. Some reviewers cite the subplot involving a war widow (Samantha Morton) as the film's weakest spot.
Ben Foster in The Messenger'The Messenger' was a standout at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and reviews continue to be positive, with a few exceptions, as the movie hits theaters. Inspired by his own experience in the Israeli military, director (and co-writer) Oren Moverman has crafted an emotionally intense film about an Iraqi War hero (Ben Foster) assigned to the U.S. Army's Casualty Notification Service. In his unenviable task of notifying the families of those killed in action, he is partnered by an older, crustier career soldier (Woody Harrelson), with whom he forms an unlikely friendship.

Though the subject matter is uncomfortable, critics generally agree it's handled nicely, while the performances of Foster and Harrelson are almost uniformly praised. Some reviewers cite the subplot involving a war widow (Samantha Morton) as the film's weakest spot.

New York Times: "Mr. Harrelson, using his natural affability as a mask for his character's pain and insecurity, has never been better. And with this performance Mr. Foster, having shown intriguing promise in 'Alpha Dog' and '3:10 to Yuma,' places himself in the first rank of young American screen actors. Their work is well supported by Jena Malone, as Will's former girlfriend, and especially by Samantha Morton, playing a soldier's widow with whom he becomes shyly and half-guiltily infatuated. The script for 'The Messenger,' which Mr. Moverman wrote with Alessandro Camon, has been purged of melodrama, and also of the glum indie-film conventions that weigh down so many forays into local realism. Though there are a few scenes that seem more written than lived, the film as a whole is remarkably textured, with room for humor as well as anguish."

The Hollywood Reporter: "Offering another perspective on the Iraq war's impact on returning soldiers, 'The Messenger' gingerly probes wounds that are still healing with admirable empathy and insight ... Bottom line: A penetrating assessment of post-war readjustment."
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Variety: "Nobody plays angry like Ben Foster, but compassion is something new for the actor, who softens his crazy-man shtick to deliver a complex and moving performance in 'The Messenger.' Foster plays an Iraq War hero assigned to work for the Casualty Notification Office -- those uniformed bearers of bad news who show up on the doorsteps of parents and wives with word of a soldier's death. Director Oren Moverman's devastating debut confuses its message somewhat by allowing the officer to fall for one of the widows (Samantha Morton), a development, however, that should boost commercial prospects for this potent character study."

Entertainment Weekly: "The movie is about the mess of private feelings our soldiers carry around with them. Foster, arrestingly implosive, plays Will as quietly undone by his war memories; he can't see what he did - only what he failed to do. And Harrelson gives Tony an electric dark-hearted vitality and rage. 'The Messenger' could have used more shape as a story. Will's involvement with a soldier's widow is a cocky breach of protocol, but almost too courtly, and Samantha Morton plays this woman with her usual virtuoso drabness. Yet there's nothing drab about the tormented place these men take each other to. You'll want to go along."

The New Yorker: "For the families, the sternly polite men, arriving at the door in bemedalled uniforms and tilted berets, seem to be death itself. There's an excruciatingly obvious but unavoidable irony here: 'The Messenger' has also taken on the unwelcome task of telling its audience what it doesn't much want to hear-how families are devastated by war. Yet the film is neither dutiful nor solemn. This is a fully felt, morally alert, marvellously acted piece of work. Despite the grim subject, it's a sweet-tempered movie, with moments of explosive humor-an entertainment."

Time Out New York: "Directed by a newcomer, Oren Moverman (the cowriter of Todd Haynes's Bob Dylan fantasia, 'I'm Not There'), the movie does an uncommonly sensitive job probing the psychologies of blocked men, less so the urges of a widow who needs more than comforting words. (As played by the great Samantha Morton, you'll forgive this obvious plot trajectory.) Though it feels a little too indie-ish in its wallowing misery, 'The Messenger' signals the start of strong year-end work."

Village Voice: "Some might duck and cover at a premise so grim, but Moverman and co-writer Allessandro Camon's top-notch script is loaded with authentic compassion and charm-even unlikely sucker punches of humor. Foster appropriately underplays, while Harrelson, never over the top, nails his showier role. The film is obviously about coping with grief-or not knowing how to-as illustrated in a slightly overcooked subplot about a newly widowed woman (Samantha Morton) Will tries to woo. But what really resonates is the complex tale of camaraderie between two men whose only hope of avoiding self-destruction is to let down their guard-which is, of course, against protocol."

Rolling Stone: "If anyone asks you where the best and brightest new directors are coming from, point to Oren Moverman, whose vividly touching and vital debut feature signals the arrival of a filmmaker -- he wrote the script with Alessandro Camon -- who can bare the soul of a character with precision and healing compassion. 'The Messenger,' showing humanity under siege, opens wounds inflicted by the Iraq War - not on the battlefield but in the hearts of the families of soldiers who never made it back home."

Associated Press: "Foster is a solid anchor, capturing the introspection of a soldier readjusting to home life -- ill-at-ease with his war-hero status, uncertain about his Army future, rueful over the sacrifices he made to serve his country. 'The Messenger' just drifts around him, though, the focus shifting from unfinished personal business out of Will's civilian life to his fumbling affection for Olivia, who then drops out of sight for a long stretch as the film switches to a mismatched-buddy story between Will and Tony. It's a little boring, and more than a little unconvincing, with Harrelson a superficial caricature when he's out to play Tony as a good old Army lifer and a shallow cry-baby when he tries to put some depth in the guy."

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