Off the Netflix Queue – ‘The Messenger’

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MEApxjYncI

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

Comments

  1. Is it just me or Ben Foster just really f—ing good in everything… even the 3 minutes he’s in 30 Days of Night… he kills it!

    • Haven’t seen this movie yet, but yeah Ben Foster is one talented bloke. He blew me away in 3:10 – Yuma, nearly outshone the two major actors Crowe & Bale, which is a mean feat!

      • It sure is…he’s just the kind of guy you’d love as a villain and a hero…just like Mark Strong:)

    • I too liked him in 30 Days (though it was a small part). I even liked him in 11:14…he wasn’t in it long, but you could see from that movie that he’s always had a quasi crazy side. For the work he’s getting I still think he’s underutilized. He just needs his true leading man “big break” – something like Good Will Hunting did for Matt Damon (to get him recognized at Oscar time) and he’ll be set for life:)

  2. I would recommend you see Taking Chance, a HBO movie with Kevin Bacon. It’s a much simpler and accurate movie about the process of bringing home the body of a fallen Marine.

    • OK Cas, I’m game. But tell me – does it help you better relate to the characters? Aside from a direction-less middle, that was the main drawback of the film…but mainly because I’ve never been in the service.

      • Castor says

        I think it makes it easier. There is no politics involved or people screaming at people, no overwrought drama. Just the facts.

  3. mcarteratthemovies says

    Ben Foster — as much praise as has been heaped on this young actor, he deserves more. He’s so versatile; he can go from crazy meth freak (“Alpha Dog”) and wild-card villain (“3:10 to Yuma”) to much subtler parts like this, and he nails every character.

    Woody Harrelson is experiencing something of a career rebirth, and I’m thrilled for that. His roles are all over the map in terms of good/bad, mainstream/indie, but the man has talent.

    • It’s so funny to see an actor with humble and typecast beginnings, but after Cheers, I never expected to see the heights that Woody has climbed to. But I agree, sometimes you have to be down quite a bit to make an impressive comeback. Damn, the range to go from Kingpin, White Men Can’t Jump, Zombieland and then do a 180 to get to this film…”The man has talent” Yeah I second that:)

      But more to our love of Foster…yes, ayes and more yes, he does deserve more praise. His star is going nowhere but up…he really needs to lead in more films. Looking forward to him in The Mechanic. Don’t have a lot of hope for it but if Foster is there, so will be this guy (points to chest).

  4. Have this waiting for me at home, looking forward to it. And I’m with M. Carter on the whole Ben Foster thing. That kid is no joke.

    • I never saw a movie of his I didn’t like…well, let me rephrase that. Aside from Hostage, I never saw a movie of his I didn’t like:P There’s crazy Ben Foster, and there’s too crazy Ben Foster…not a fan in the latter case.

  5. You are dead on here! Well done! I was absolutely immersed in this for the first 20 minutes or so. Harrelson was magnetic and his rapport with Foster was great to watch. But it falls into a lot of lulls throughout and there is not enough to sustain its running time..it plods and staggers and the viewer loses interest. A terrific character study (like you say) about a job not ever really examined in film before. It just needed something else to keep us involved.

    • Thanks Peter! The middle of the movie (with Foster was trying to make a connection with Morton and showing Harrelson unraveling) were like two separate movies which didn’t gel.

      I agree, like you say, it needed something to keep us more involved. Possibly have Foster leading or maybe taking Woody to counseling sessions where he just loses it, or maybe Harrelson has been redeployed and later came home wounded only to do the same job but in a wheelchair…or anything that didn’t involve Foster pining over Jena Malone, that was a bit weak.