Ever since my sister decided to join the Navy, it has been hard for me to watch modern military movies. Mainly it is because I try to put out of mind that she is not in danger every day she shows up to work (she is literally not in danger now because she is sitting in an office in Virginia, but she was out on ships for most of her deployment) purely because she decided to don that uniform in order to get free education and a job experience. By watching these films, I am recognizing that not everybody gets out without seeing combat and that not everybody is the same person that went in. The Messenger deals closely with the impact that choosing the military life has not only the people who serve but also those family and friends that choose to stick with you.
Ben Foster plays a man recently recovered from an attack while deployed.Ben Foster’s character, Montgomery, is not just suffering from the physical damage done to his body, but also from the psychological damage done to his brain. He was considered a hero in the blast, but he doesn’t see himself that way. His one time girlfriend can’t stay away from him despite her being engaged to another man. And he has no other family to turn to in his adjustment to civilian life. On top of this he is assigned to one of the worst jobs in the military, Casualty Notification Team. This means that he is the first person to notify the next of kin in case of the death of a solider. The raw emotion he has to witness when he recites from a script exactly what he has to say devastates him. Of course his commander on this team is not helping manners. Woody Harrelson, who plays Captain Stone, has demons of his own that he can’t help but resurrect as he gets to know his subordinate. He takes the emotions he experiences while on the job and channels them into the women he beds. These two men are more similar than it seems. They are both wanting to find a substantial relationship that will give them the support they need in order to perform their duty.
There are several scenes in this film that are devastating to watch. Each time they inform the loved ones of their personal tragedy, the camera doesn’t cut away. You watch these people’s reactions as they are told that their loved ones were taken away from them. Each reaction is slightly different. One man yells at Montgomery and Stone, another woman who is pregnant with the deceased child screams and screams until her voice is hoarse, and yet another woman just takes the information like she is brick. Her shock is so complete that it doesn’t seem like she gets what they are telling her. She shakes their hands and thanks them for doing what they do. Each actor in this film is amazing. The inherent ability that each actor has to reach down inside them and pull out emotional devastation is fascinating. Ben Foster in particular is quite good. It is really hard to play an emotionally reserved person who has seen so much and had so much done to him over the course of his life with such subtly. His emotional outbursts are not big but they are impactful.
No matter how much the military tells the family members to be prepared for the worst, you never think it is going to be your loved one that is hurt or killed. No matter where my sister goes, I will always think that she will be safe. Even if she is shipped off to Afghanistan or the middle of hostile waters, I will think that she will never be in harm’s way. But that just is not true. These fictional families in this film have real life counterparts. That is the most devastating part about this film.