455) The Messenger (2009) Dir: Oren Moverman Date Released: November 2009 Date Seen: December 21, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5
There's a shot late in The Messenger that handily accomplishes everything director/co-writer Oren Moverman is trying to say. It's a neatly blocked-off, no-nonsense shot of Woody Harrelson sitting on a couch, with the camera positioned right in front of him. The shot is deliberately dressed down and direct, a simplified, static image of Harrelson that is almost confrontational in the way its poised right in front of him. In the scene, Harrelson is thoughtfully snacking on something when he suddenly breaks into tears. Ben Foster lurks around the corner, hearing his friend and colleague's sobs but never goes to him. That's what the camera is for: to be there for Harrelson, even if he can't see it or even want it to be there.
This one abstracted image is what the film's depiction of the Casualty Information Unit, soldiers tasked with informing family members of recently deceased soldiers, boils down to. The rest of the film flirts with its intellectual payoff over and over again in such a guileless and repetitive way, especially in the tentative romance between Foster's young soldier and Samantha Morton's widow, that it dilutes much of the potency of Moverman's keen direction and the cast's wrenching performances. Being heart-felt and direct about such a prickly subject for 2 hours is a serious strain but that one shot is brutal.