The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Movie Review:
The Messenger

Dec 21, 2009

The Messenger is another Iraq war movie. But it takes place here in the U.S. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), a staff sergeant, returns home from Iraq wounded physically and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. While he is struggling to recover from his physical and psychological wounds, he is assigned to the Army Casualty Notification team for the final three months of his enlistment. These are the guys who inform the next-of-kin (NOK) that someone close to them has been killed.

He is paired with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a soldier who has been doing this grueling job for quite a while. He is as hardened and traumatized as anyone on the front lines. Together Will and Tony deliver the bad news to hysterical and angry families. They do it while trying their best to maintain emotional detachment and a stoic demeanor, sticking with the script and the rules that forbid physical contact and involvement with the aggrieved.

Both these soldiers are a mess. They both suffer from insomnia and both drink – a lot. Tony instructs Will on how to perform the job. An example of one of the many instructions he provides is “Don’t ring the doorbell of NOKs. Sometimes you get one of those god awful chirpin’ doorbells, some sing-songy shit, throws you right off your game: “Yankee Doodle went to Town riding on a Pony” and “Sorry your husband is dead” doesn’t flow. So I like to knock.”

Will doesn’t waste time before breaking the rules. He gets involved with a widow he notified and later has physical contact while notifying an elderly man, trying to comfort him. The interactions between the men and the families are gut-wrenching. There is one particularly memorable interaction involving a father who reacts with anger.

The movie shows how the wars the U.S. fights abroad in distant countries come home every day ... wounded, disabled, dead soldiers and grieving, broken families. Tony sums up the movie when he says, “Soldiers go to war, everyone waves flags and applauds ... and then bullets fly and soldiers die and it’s such a shock.”