Woodstock Film Fest -- The Messenger

Stewart's 3rd blog from the Woodstock Film Festival.

If you want to watch an entertaining movie, go to your local multiplex. If you want your emotions shot out of a cannon, go see The Messenger.

Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, played with subtleness and depth by Ben Foster, is a war hero. Well, that's what others call the wounded Iraq War veteran, including his new partner, Captain Tony Stone, who has barely experienced combat. A role Woody Harrelson delivers with equal elements of craziness and vulnerability.


Having returned to the States from the combat zone with only three months remaining in the Army, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery's final assignment is to be partnered with Captain Stone on a Causality Notification Team. Their job is to inform relatives of soldiers killed in action. For good reason, this is called the worst job in the Army.

Both soldiers struggle, Will Montgomery from the effects of combat in Iraq, Tony Stone from being assigned too long to Causality Notification. Whereas the younger Will pulls back from Tony, the cocky Captain with his wry take on life, Tony reaches out to the young combat vet, seemly desperate to connect with someone. Although Will learns the rules for notifying the next to kin, there are no rules to protect him against the heavy emotional toll that slowly become his major problem.

Like men in combat, the two soldiers bond to survive. Regardless of their personal differences -- one experienced intense combat and the other had no real fighting experience -- their vastly different personalities, one pulls back while the other grasps to connect. The men come together to survive the emotional upheavals exploding like IEDs on the infamous Baghdad airport road. Parents burst into hysteria ... an outraged father spits in Will's face ... loved ones collapse as they begin an endless life of devastation.

This is a story about survival, about two different men uniting to save themselves from being emotionally killed by the hardest job in the army. And this may have been the hardest movie I ever watched.

You see, my mother had "messengers" visit her. Two Marines in dress blues carrying a yellow telegram with information about her son in Vietnam. I don't know how many times she told me this story, maybe once, maybe several dozen times, regardless I hear her voice as if she just spoke the words. She was driving down the street and saw two Marines standing on the porch by our front door. She bolted out of the car. No your son was not dead, one of the Marine's told her, and handed her a telegram that said I was seriously wounded, one leg had been amputated, and I was in poor condition. That is, I might soon be dead -- in fact I might already be dead.

When I watched the reaction of those mothers and fathers and wives to the news delivered by Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery and Captain Tony Stone my mind snapped kicking a horrific bolt of emotionality through my body that squeezed numerous tears out of me.

Yet, when watching a very good film, personal experience is not necessary. Even proximity to personal experience is not necessary. Under the steady hand of writer Alessandro Camon and insightful eye of writer-director Oren Moverman, all you have to do is show up, open yourself up, and hang on to the arms of the chair. Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, with stellar supporting performances from Samantha Morton and Steve Buscemi, including others, will shoot you on a hellish ride straight into the heart of the most difficult job in the Army.

There are zillions of films about the horrors of war, and many about the enduring grief on the home front. Yet, and this is certainly part of the brilliance of The Messenger, this film slips in between the combat faraway and the torment at home to the exact point where the horror of war explodes in the living rooms of American. The Messenger is a razor slicing to the dead bone of the war at home.

Without a single shot fired, not a single dead soldier seen, the messengers shatter quiet neighborhood after quiet neighborhood. The Messenger uncovers what has been hidden, exposes an invisible link between the dead and the living, the battlefield and the homeland, and probably most important, between the illusion that war will someday end and the reality that war never ends for some. The Messenger is a spotlight on what will be a lifetime of pain and emptiness for the parents of young Americans killed in war. The Messenger has a message you will never forget. See it!

You can email Stewart at the Woodstock Film Festival at SNusbaumer@gmail.com