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Messenger, The


Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Jena Malone, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Yaya Dacosta, Eamonn Walker, Halley Feiffer, Kevin Hagan, Marceline Hugot

Director: Oren Moverman

Returning from Afghanistan full of rage at the often gruesome deaths of his comrades, for at least one of which he feels personally responsible, Sgt Will Montgomery (Foster) - given a quickie by his ex-girlfriend Kelly (Malone), who is now engaged to another - is further incensed by being assigned, for the last three months of his tour of duty, to Casualty Notification.

This stressful task involves travelling with a senior officer, the hard-headed, AA-attending Capt Tony Stone (Harrelson) to apprise families of the deaths of their sons, husbands and, in once case, a daughter, from snipers' bullets, roadside bombs, or other 'IDs' (incendiary devices).

The soldiers are to be dispassionate and non-tactile but, after some distressing experiences, Will finds himself drawn to war widow Olivia Pitterson (Morton), whose black husband, who had become a stranger to her, has left her with a small son.

The acting is particularly fine in this piece - Harrelson was Oscar-nominated - but the tale itself is meandering and overlong, the soldiers not always winning our sympathy as much as they might, especially when, in dirty vests, they gatecrash the reception for Kelly's wedding; and the writing doesn't always match the subtlety of the leading performances.

The rather rambling narrative also gives us time to ponder why two such obviously unsuited characters were assigned to this duty in the first place.

David Quinlan

USA 2009. UK Distributor: The Works. Colour by deluxe.
112 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 12 Jun 2011