No Iraq war film to date taps into the minds and hearts of real American people and soldiers with the perspicacity of Oren Moverman's excellent drama The Messenger. Ben Foster (sounding slightly like Jack Nicholson) plays a sergeant back from his tour of duty and assigned to a casualty notification team with a quick-to-judge alcoholic officer played with scene-stealing relish by Woody Harrelson.
This is an actor's movie through and through. Foster is terrific as the decorated soldier who doesn't believe he's done anything heroic overseas, but whose current mission of delivering bad news to complete strangers requires more bravery and strength of character than his combat in Iraq. Harrelson is simply superb at subtly revealing his character's insecurities through a tough bravado exterior. Samantha Morton nails it as a widow who can't escape the memory of her late husband even though an attraction grows between her and the soldier who notified her of his death. Moverman deserves a lot of credit for putting so much faith in his actors. For scenes requiring very raw but nuanced emotion, he often uses very long takes which allow the cast to simply do what they do best. For the most part, it works, but it does slow the pace somewhat. The camera work is effective but calls no undue attention to itself.
The Messenger is one of the year's finest films and should at least be considered for Best Picture along with Original Screenplay and all Acting categories applicable. The only safe nomination at the moment is Woody Harrelson's, but with Nine being quickly forgotten by critics and audiences, it is just possible The Messenger could turn up elsewhere.
*** out of ****