Shooting the Messenger?

 DATELINE:  Drama at Its Most Gripping


In 2009 director Owen Moverman teamed up Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster as captain and staff sergeant whose onerous duty is to inform people that their loved one has been killed in action. The story is The Messenger, about those who deliver the worst news to the official next-of-kin of America’s fallen soldiers.

It is horrific duty and makes compelling drama. Foster takes on a sympathetic and unusual role of heroic character, next to hard-ass officer who also must keep up regulations as a defense mechanism as civilian next-of-kin receive life-altering news.

The job is standard operating procedure, militarized and standardized. In years past there was only an impersonal telegram of bad news. Today it is the human face on inhumanity.

Everyone acts differently to the news, just as everyone acts different to death. They don’t know these people and enter only as minor, nearly dehumanized, figures delivering major news.

Ethics, pity, and duty, come to a crossroads as these soldiers face the most painful of all parts of a solider’s life: his death from combat.

You could say this is an actor’s film, and Moverman is clearly an actor’s director. He gives the performers some highly charged, internal and external emotional moments. It is riveting to watch heroes suffer and do what most of us could never want to face. The actors prove their abilities.

Young Staff Sergeant Montgomery has difficulty with maintaining an impersonal and unemotional attitude. On the other hand, Captain Stone, with a name to symbolize what looks like a callous demeanor, takes his job harder and buries the pain deeper.

Without characters making bad decisions, you likely never have a conflict in war movies. These are not automatons, but real men re-living post-traumatic events repeatedly. 

The film is too emotionally charged to be depressing or sad. An ultimate catharsis makes this a literate man’s war film.