From the compelling trailer, I knew The Messenger was a film I really wanted to see. Unfortunately, like trailers are prone to doing, the movie was not as well put together as I was led to believe. Overall, the film was a weak story but was an impressive character study. Despite having slow missteps and some wooden characters, the high points of the film are narrowed down to two standout elements: Harrelson and Foster. Yet even the amazing performances aren’t enough to give me more than lukewarm feeling.
The Messenger had quite a subtle and powerful beginning and Woody was stone cold, amazing, and just commanded the show. Yet as it progressed, so too did Foster. Woody’s character showed us he’s not the machine he was in the beginning and he dimmed under the light of Foster. Foster, who could easily shoot to the level of acting of say Russell Crowe in another 10 years, is easily my favorite young talent (aside from Joseph Gordon Levitt of course).
While the plot would make you believe this was about a tragic love story involving two emotionally wrecked individuals, I was glad they didn’t make that the main focus. Plenty of movies follow two messed up people finding solace in each other. This was a bit different. I was glad to see that The Messenger had characters trying to improve themselves before they unleashed their problems on someone equally as troubled. Further, and it was brought up specifically in the movie, I was glad this wasn’t a failed love story showing the grieving Samantha Morton being taken advantage of, or making a bad relationship decision for her and her child.
Ever since maybe The Deer Hunter, there have been a good amount of films using PTSD as a heavy plot device. While this isn’t as self-destructive as others out there, the subtlety borders on shocking but is acted brilliantly. It’s the fine acting of Woody Harrelson (yes, I was shocked too) that does the most to make you feel for the characters and their struggles with the real world.
However, as always, Ben Foster (that little acting engine that could) starts slow and picks up momentum…very soon you nearly forget how much presence Harrelson had at the beginning as it is now “The ‘Ben Foster’ Show”. Harrelson’s tough facade breaks down and he shows that he’s not nearly as put together as he appears. It is Foster who begins taking command of the scenes and situations yet he never really culminates with anything more than a more emotional version of what Harrelson exemplified. Those two really make the movie and this may be both actor’s finest work to date.
Since I’ve never been in the service, watching these types of films, I feel a disassociated with plot and character’s emotions, and that keeps me from really identifying with what’s going on. I could understand the emotion Foster was trying to convey but not able to comprehend the passion behind his words or the confusion he felt. So while I could empathize, I could never fully sympathize with what’s being depicted…but I bet for a great many service men and women, this was heartbreakingly accurate.
What I didn’t like was that this movie tried to, after all the slow, brooding sequences, is wrap it up with a borderline Hollywood ending. That, I think, was a mistake. Due to the film’s non-directional plot and unsatisfying character arc, the resolution of the story is as lost as the characters themselves. It is understandable that no one expects these characters’ lives to be set back on track in the course of 90+ minutes, so it would make sense to have a finale that is just as disjointed as its characters. So then why attempt a quasi-happy ending whem it seems so forced and not true to life? Yeah, that kind of killed it for me.
G-S-T Ruling – 3/5
G-S-T Seal of Approval – PENDING