What's the worst job in America? Excluding those jobs which cause physical pain
or disgust, it might be the job performed by the soldiers or sailors who act as
"angels of death." Their assignment consists of telling people that the person
they love most is dead. When any member of the American military dies in action,
two others are designated to inform the next of kin immediately. The messengers
must act quickly, because the soldier's family must be notified directly, before
there is any possibility that they could hear the news from someone else. The
military brass do not want the aggrieved next of kin to hear the somber news
from some neighbors who watch cable news or surf the internet, or even worse,
from some glib member of the local media. The responses to the messengers
encompass every level of grief, from denial to despair to anger at the army. The
messengers can get spit on, threatened, cursed, or even physically harmed. Even
when the process goes as smoothly as possible, they know that their job is to
render people inconsolable with unimaginable sorrow.
The Messenger - soon to be a breezy musical comedy!
There is some attention paid to the personal history of the two messengers and
the means they use to help them cope with their onerous duty, but those elements
of the film offer no relief from the overall sense of hopelessness. The senior
officer (Woody Harrelson) is a bitter recovering alcoholic who seems incapable of making true
human contact. His new partner (Ben Foster) is a young enlisted man recovering from battle-shock and, if that were
not enough of a burden for him to bear, is also anguishing over the recent loss
of a lifelong girlfriend.
Yup, since this is probably the most sensitive job within the military ranks, it
is naturally entrusted to a redneck alkie who is still a captain despite
obviously being about 50 years old! He in turn selects as his new partner an
uneducated and shell-shocked motor pool sergeant with anger management issues
and only three months left to serve. But the new man's inexperience is not a
barrier to good performance, because the elderly captain gives him nearly three
full minutes of training!
The structure of the film includes relatively little forward movement,
concentrating instead on a series of vignettes in which the two men are pictured
delivering the news to household after household, encountering different
reactions. Many of these visits could be re-sequenced without affecting the film
in any way. Although the film is plagued by inertia and one-note despondency,
its serious themes are the official signal of an "important"
movie, and it has therefore attracted the attention of film critics (90% positive
reviews) and those societies which frequently confer awards on such grim
efforts. Woody Harrelson has been nominated by many groups, including the Golden
Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, to receive their "best supporting actor"
award for his work as the senior messenger. In fact, the Detroit Film Critics
gave Woody two of its five supporting actor nominations: one for The Messenger
and one for his comic turn in Zombieland. (Neither won, however, as the trophy
went to Cristoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds.) Harrelson's co-stars in The
Messenger, Samantha Morton and Ben Foster, have attracted some award-season
attention for their own performances, and Steve Buscemi also turned in two
outstanding and emotionally resonant scenes as an aggrieved father.
The critical admiration is shared by the IMDb voters, who award it an 8.1 - the
same score earned by Gone With The Wind and Gandhi! Movie audiences were
considerably less enthusiastic. The film never reached more than 50 theaters and
grossed less than a million dollars, thus sharing the obscurity of so many good
films with dark themes.
There is some nudity, seen here in 1280x720 resolution.
Lisa Joyce, in a unimportant
role as one of Harrelson's one-night stands, does a full frontal scene.
Jena Malone, as Ben Foster's
ex-girlfriend, shows T&A in a dark sex scene.
(Woody Harrelson also shows his butt.)