First Hit: A powerful well executed film of one of the most difficult jobs anyone can have, notifying the next of kin.
Ben Foster plays Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, a wounded Iraqi war veteran, who was cited as a hero although he believes differently. He is receiving treatment stateside for his wounds and is assigned duty to inform next of kin that someone has died while in the service of action for their country.
He is teamed with Captain Tony Stone (played by Woody Harrelson) who is a veteran in delivering this message to the next of kin. He lives by the rule book of how to deliver the message and informs Montgomery, there is no deviation from delivering the message as stated in the manual.
Stone believes in the importance of delivering the message right and tells Montgomery that learning the script and process is different than the actual intensity of saying it to the next of kin. Stone is a recovering alcoholic and suffers from not serving in intense armed action, the kind of war experience by Montgomery.
Montgomery is deeply pained by the effects of war, his actions and his girlfriend who picked up a new boyfriend after he headed to Iraq. This film is about two men bonding around one of the most difficult jobs anyone will ever have to do.
This film is also about the depth and wide ranging reactions of the people they visit to deliver the line: “The Secretary of the Army regrets to inform you that …” Each one of the scenes where they deliver this message is different, harrowing, and filled with grief, anger and sadness.
Foster is wonderful as a vet slowly learning how to make connections with people again. Harrelson, again, shows his ability to embrace a wide range of parts and here he fully embodies the vet who will stay in the Army for a long time, believes in what he does, is crass but caring partner. Samantha Morton, as Olivia Pitterson, is insightful, deep and reflective as a widow who loses her husband. Lastly Steve Buscemi is superb as a father who loses his son, takes it out on The Messenger but finally reconciles his grief to bring it full circle. The director Oren Moverman uses lighting, camera movement, and the characters to effectively move this story along. One clear indication of his skills was when Montgomery is talking to another war vet just back from Iraq outside a bar. The lighting is especially effective because it paints both of the deeply troubled soldiers with a back fuzzy haze around their bodies on the wall they are standing near. This shadow exemplifies and accurately expresses their own deep and dark shadows, feelings, and thoughts.
Overall: Make no mistake, this is a poignant powerful film and brings to light one of the saddest duties for soldiers of war.