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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

270. The Messenger

    Does the public really get what the public wants at the cinema?
    I ask this because in between a splurge of brainless multiplex buffoonery this summer, one of the best films of the year is going virtually unnoticed.
    With a brilliant cast and a superbly written screenplay, The Messenger is a top drawer piece of work.
    It left Mrs W and myself spellbound on one of our too rare visits to the marvellous Broadway cinema in Nottingham.
    This will not surprise American critics, after all, Oren Moverman's movie was nominated for two Oscars and was released there 19 months ago.
    But, despite its critical acclaim, The Messenger bombed in the States (it made just over $1million for a $6million lay-out) - probably because it paints war in an unflattering light.
    Here, it has only made the screen at a handful of arthouse cinemas.
    Those who won't see it will miss out badly. 
    So, what's the storyline? Well, it surrounds two military personnel (Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster) whose job it is to tell next of kin when servicemen or women have been killed in action.
    Harrelson is superb as the veteran of the unit, living by a list of rules which disengages him from the emotion of the job.
    Foster is equally good playing a sergeant who was hailed a hero after a recent mission in Iraq and is still being treated for his injuries.
    He finds it more difficult to tell the grief-stricken loved ones bad news with a straight bat.
    Indeed, he starts to get emotionally involved with one wife (Samantha Morton).
    Moverman and Allesandro Camon were rightly nominated for their original script which reflects the different types of scenarios which greet Harrelson and Foster after they make the knock of death at the doors of the bereaved.
    It also shows the devastating mental effect the process has on the two men.
    Harrelson's career gets better and better. He has a wonderful variety about his work which started in Cheers bar as the daft waiter all those years ago.
    Foster is a rising light. I've mainly seen him playing villains before but The Messenger gives him chance to show a much softer side.
    Meanwhile, Morton is again remarkable. She was the perfect American army wife. One would never have known that she grew up two miles from where we were watching this film.
    Another reason that US audiences might not have been impressed by The Messenger was that it reaches no conclusions.
    But in a time of war, there are no easy answers and it was right that the film-makers did not reach for sugar.
    It was a really great bit of work and Mrs W and I rated it at 9/10.
    Will it make the running top 10 on Sunday? We'll have to wait and see.



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