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The Messenger is the Goldtown Nickelodeon’s latest great offering for Juneau film lovers.
Will Montgomery is an Army man injured in Iraq and a hero. He has three months left before he is discharged. In this time, his superiors team him up with commanding officer Tony Stone as part of the Army’s Casualty Notification Service. This “service” is how the Army notifies the death of a soldier to their next of kin. Those who serve in this capacity have the toughest job in the military – aside from getting shot at.
So, clearly, this is not a light film. It is not a flashy film. There is not one explosion. Not even a gun shot. The cinematography isn’t sweeping and grand. The setting isn’t urban. The people are not sophisticated. And the dialogue is not stylized. But this is a great film. This is a film about intimacy. This film is about real people rather than frothy fictional concoctions. This film is a showcase for good acting and writing. This film is slow.
And I mean slow in a good way, like beef braised in wine for four hours on a Sunday afternoon. I’m talking quality slow: the kind of slow that allows you to get to know the character; the kind of slow that allows intimacy. The Messenger reminded me of other slow movies like The Great Santini, Tender Mercies, and Sling Blade. And in addition to being slow, these movies also starred Robert Duvall.
Which gets me to the acting. Ben Foster plays Will wonderfully. Like a young Duvall, he displays all the pain and angst you might expect from a decent man, injured in war, trying desperately to make a connection in the civilian world while, above all, maintaining control. Mr. Foster constructs a subtle and natural acting performance. His interactions with Samantha Morton make up one of the most realistic courtship dances I’ve seen on film: awkward, painful, beautiful. Ms. Morton too shines as a mom dealing with her own serious fallout from the war. Woody Harrelson plays officer Stone as a soldier making up for never seeing bullets fly in battle with forced bravado. It’s a great performance and has Mr. Harrelson has been rewarded with a best supporting actor nomination. Why not Mr. Foster and Ms. Morton? Well, frankly, their acting is so good, it’s like their not acting. Great natural performances rarely get the oscar.
The screenplay has also been nominated for best original screenplay. I completely agree. Again, it’s hard even to describe the writing other than natural. It is very difficult, I think, to write how people actually speak. You can be like Tarantino and not even try and just develop masterpieces of stylized scripts full of quotable quips. Or, you can try to write like how people speak. Most of the time, I think writers miss the mark, but here, this film, the Messenger; it’s like eavesdropping.
The Messenger plays the next two weekends at our beloved Goldtown Nickelodeon. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.