May 25, 2010


As of last week you can stop by your Redbox of choice and rent "The Messenger". I did just that. Let me start out by applauding the way this film was shot by first time director Oren Moverman who also co-wrote the film. He uses long, continuous, uncomfortable takes and lets the actors act, something that is rarely seen even in independent films.
Ben Foster plays a soldier recently returned from the Middle East and assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification Service, aka the delightful, nerve racking job of having to be on call 24/7 with the assignment of knocking on the doors of deceased soldiers to notify relatives with the pleasant news that their family member has been killed. For all of us that think we have the worst job in the world, see this movie. Their job makes a job in the custodial arts or customer service seem relaxing and relatively stress free. Caught between being left by his ex girlfriend who won't seem to stay gone and disobeying protocol by getting involved with with the widow or NOK (next of kin) shortly after informing her of her husband's death.
Doesn't sound like a lighthearted, uplifting, feel good movie? Its not, and thankfully it doesn't try to be.
For as impressive as he was in "3:10 To Yuma" Foster misses the mark here. In a role calling for a hardened soldier with a sensitive side wanting to reach out he instead manages to just come of way more creepy than caring and more intimidating than sympathetic. This role would have been more fitting for an actor like Ryan Gosling, Mark Ruffalo, or Casey Affleck.
On the other hand, Woody Harrelson has come on strong the last few years and he is as good as he has ever been in this movie. He completely steals the show in his Oscar nominated role as Captain Tony Stone. He is bizarrely likable playing a very complex and unlikable character... Maybe he and Foster should have switched roles. With that being said, some of the finest acted scenes of the year are shared between the two actors in key moments that anchor the film.
This film has so much going for it with a great supporting cast including Samantha Morton and even smaller roles by Steve Buscemi and Jena Malone. What this film lacks in likable characters it almost makes up for in the believability of the acting; at times you feel as if you are watching a documentary. Unfortunately it only ends up as a film that "could have been." This should have been an Oscar contender, but too much rides on Foster who only half delivers. I would normally say this is still a movie you should definitely see, but a few scenes of tasteless nudity that seem to be in the film just for the sake of nudity alone, add nothing to the film. The few moments of incredible acting are worth your dollar, just have the remote handy. B

"The Messenger" is rated R for language, nudity, sexual contact, implied violence and brief drug references.

What to watch instead: The Karate Kid (1984) A+
Giving this movie an A+ feels like an insult. I know like me you already own this time honored classic on VHS & DVD but, it was also released today at Redbox. I think they should be charging close to $10 a day to rent a film of this caliber. Do they not realize that The Karate Kid makes up 1/3 of the Holy Trinity of 80's films?!

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