Friday, March 12, 2010
Don't Shoot The Messenger... He is Already Hurt
Posted by Courtney Small
Director Oren Moverman, who was the writer behind Jesus' Son and I'm Not There, subtly shows that the Iraq War not only has devastating ramifications for the troops overseas, but also their families and the soldiers still in America. We see the grief in the faces of every family member who is unfortunate enough to receive a visit from the Casualty Notification team. Montgomery and Stone's first visit to the Washington house is so emotionally charged that it is unfathomable how these men go through this five or six times each day. Even when the men are off duty, they still cannot escape the constant reminder of the sorrow due to war. There is a great scene in the film where Montgomery is having a drink at the local bar and observes a welcome home party for a returning soldier. Despite his best efforts to maintain the levity of the evening, the soldier clearly feels like a stranger in his own country. The soldier's awkward speech shows that he is not only struggling to come to terms with what he saw overseas, but also how foreign life outside of Iraq is. It is as if the soldier feels ashamed for being home while others are still fighting.
There is a level of guilt that sweeps through every single character like a virus in The Messenger. It is one of the most compelling, and heartbreaking, aspects of the film. Stone is riddle with guilt for things he was not able to do, and relationships that were ruined as a result. Some of the families Stone and Montgomery visit express guilt over how things ended with their loved ones before the war, and the fact that they will never have a chance to fix it. The interesting thing is that the guilt is not only associated with loss, but new beginnings as well. This is most evident in the Will/Olivia story arc. Not only must Montgomery cope with being alive; but he also feels guilt for both pushing his old flame (Jena Malone) into the arms of another man, and for falling for woman whose husband is a fallen soldier. Montgomery's guilt confines him like a prisoner in an increasingly shrinking cell. Olivia’s guilt, on the other hand, is more connected to society’s expectations of a recent widow. In Olivia’s eyes, the soldier she loved died, figuratively speaking, years ago after his personality changed upon returning from his second tour of duty. Although Olivia clearly has feelings for Will, she is constantly aware of what the neighbours and her son will think. There is a level of guilt that is associated with moving on too soon which makes Olivia as much of a prisoner as Will is.
Oren Moverman's script is excellently layered, yet never feels like it is preaching at the audience despite its subject matter. Moverman merely wants to show a side of war that often does not get featured on film. The performances in the film are outstanding. While Woody Harrelson's work received an Academy Award nomination, and rightfully so, it is astonishing that neither Ben Foster or Samantha Morton were recognized for their respective roles. Granted they probably would not have won against some of the big names this year, but at least their work would garner notice on a larger scale. Foster keeps getting better with each role, it is only a matter of time before people start to give him serious leading man status. Ben perfectly captures a man who is trying to maintain order on the outside, while being a complete wreck on the inside. Morton is one of those actresses who can make reading Dr. Seuss aloud worthy of an award. Her performance in this film is so subtle and honest, that it is easy for some to miss all of the brilliant nuances that she brings to the role. I have no doubt that if the role was "flashier", she would have been nominated. Regardless, do not let the lack of award buzz keep you away from The Messenger. The film may be small but it is filled with large, and poignant, moments.