Directed by Oren Moverman
Review by Thomas W. Campbell
On November 10, 2009 I did a Q and A with director Oren Moverman, Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson after the NBR screening of The Messenger. Moverman is a wonderful craftsman of style and story and talked at length about shot set-ups and the importance of the long take to his story. Harrelson was tentative at first, wondering it seemed where I would be coming from. Once we got into film talk he perked up and became quite engaging. I asked Foster about his acting style, especially the way he seems to use space (and to close space) between himself and characters and he insisted that this was purely an instinctive element of his technique.
The Messenger was written and directed by Oren Moverman, a screenwriter (I’m Not There, Jesus’ Son, Face) making his feature directing debut. Working with cinema-tographer Bobby Bukowski (Phoebe in Wonderland, The Stone Angel), Moverman has created a film that takes on controversy with a perfect balance of empathy and self-discovery.
The Messenger opens with a closeup of an eye, overexposed to nearly white. A hand comes into frame and puts eyedrops onto the cornea, the drops spilling like tears. The damaged eye (and leg) belong to Montgomery, a “hero” soldier back from Iraq waiting for his new orders. Portrayed by Ben Foster, memorable as the charismatic villain in 3:10 to Yuma, Montgomery is an intense, troubled man attempting to define his moral bearings in a world that seems suddenly foreign. He is assigned to the Army Casualty Notification Services and feels completely unprepared. “I haven’t had grief counseling yet,” he says at the interview. This dismays his senior partner, Officer Tony Stone, played with a wound-up intensity by Woody Harrelson. Stone, as tough as nails, sees no grey areas in the job. There are rules that must be followed: you give the message and only the message; you act with honor; you walk away from any emotional or physical encounter.