Fri 21 Dec 2012
This may be the toughest non-combat task in any army – announcing families that their dearest ones, son or daughter, husband or wife fell on the line of duty in war. It needs to be done fast, as relatives should learn about the tragedy before the news show in the media, it needs to be done with dignity and sensitivity for the grief of the family, and rules, of course, rules need to be respected. However what rules are worth in such personal and painful moments? And how can the messengers, even if or especially because they are themselves people who have seen combat and faced death, their own and the one of their comrades, cope with this task? These are the key questions asked by The Messenger, a film with excellent premises which has as heroes a team of two of the uniformed soldiers the US army deploys home to pass to families the messages of death.
It’s quite interesting that this American film about the consequences of the American wars for the people who fight and for the families left home was written by an Israeli and an Italian (Alessandro Camon) and directed by the Israeli – Oren Moverman. Or maybe it is not, at least on what Moverman is concerned. This story could have happened in Israel as well, where quite a number of families have to deal with the loss of their closer family or friends in wars or terror attacks, and where Memorial Day is one very special moment, felt and lived together by the whole nation. Quite amazingly the Israeli cinema has dealt very little until now with this subject, and Moverman, who lives in the US made the film there. The result is The Messenger - a very American and a very universal film at once, one of the most interesting made until now about and against the war in Iraq.
At no moment I had the feeling that this is the first long feature film directed by Moverman. As director he masters well the camera moves, alternating traditional and fluent scenes with hand-held camera giving the feeling of reality and passing to viewers the intense dramatic effects when the announcements are being made to the families. The team of actors does a fine job as well, with Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson up to the task of playing the two soldiers with their lives transformed forever by the war even if they survive it, and with Samantha Morton whose work I love every time I see her giving a strong and perfectly restrained performance as the fresh widow who tries to keep hope and make the life go on despite the terrible loss. The big problem of the film is that despite the excellent premises the story does not have enough dramatic tension, so the excellent first half creates expectations that are not well fulfilled in the second half. The story of the fight near the lake, or the incident at the wedding do not fit well and do not add too much to the evolution of the characters. Moreover, the discussions between the two members of the team become suddenly too verbose for people who up to then seemed to be much more used to action than words, and who looked like understanding situations and communicating just by gestures or expression of eyes. The feeling I was left at the end was that The Messenger has a story of big potential, but not fully realized.