The Messenger

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Postby Mister Tee » Sat Jul 17, 2010 3:23 pm

I'm so late getting to this, some of you who wrote about it may barely remember the film. But I'm very much in sync with most of what I've read here.

For the first 40 minutes or so, I thought I was watching the under-appreciated gem of the year. The situational set-up, the characters (and performances), dialogue -- all were beautifully drawn. The initial bereavement calls were all different, all surprising in one way or another; a really strong film seemed to be underway.

But, in retrrospect, all the writers really did was come up with an excellent first act, and I don't know that they ever had any clear idea where they wanted to go from there. I'm very much with Sabin, that I'd been led by the trailer to expect a love story after that, and I'm pleased it didn't turn to be that...but I can't say I'm thrilled with what I got instead. (Parenthetically, I thought the film first began going wrong with Foster's unexplained sudden obsession with Morton. I'd rather have had their mall meeting be the coincidence Foster pretended it was, rather than a product of him stalking her for no particular reason I could glean) The later scenes between Foster and Harrrelson were, as everyone's said, meandering, and then the side-trip to Kelly's event a flat disaster (it didn't go all the way into an intrusive-drunk-speaks-to-the-crowd scene, but far enough to make my skin crawl). The penultimate monologue was gripping and well-delivered, but it could have come at the end of dozens of films -- it seemed a set piece the writers had developed and just plopped down wthout any regard for dramaturgy. You can sometimes get away with something like that in the theatre, but the narrative demands of film expose it too nakedly.

It also epitomized a problem in the film's second half: what had begun as a very particular soldiers' story evolved into a generic one. I'd have preferred a film that used the specific details of the job these guys were doing to tell the universal soldiers' story. Instead, the unique aspects of the characters were tossed aside in favor of something more standard. To me, it was the sign of a younger, inexperienced writing team, who haven't yet learned to fully integrate their material in a singular way.

But there's still that initial 40 minutes, and solid moments along the second half (including Morton's big "memories of my husband" scene) that have impact and mark the creators people to watched. I just don't think they rang the bell as loud as they hoped this time around.

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Postby Big Magilla » Wed Jan 06, 2010 5:45 am

From HitFlix:

With films such as "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Up," "Precious," "Up in the Air," "An Education" and "Inglourious Basterds" already viewed as safe Oscar bets there has been lots of speculation about which pictures will fill the last two to three slots in the Academy's new ten nominee Best Picture system. Following the holiday break, a somewhat surprising wild card entry has appeared on the scene: "The Messenger."

Oren Moverman's moving portrait of a returning Iraq soldier who has to deal with the difficult task of being assigned to notify the kin of fallen servicemen wasn't one of the major discoveries at last year's Sundance Film Festival, but throughout the year buzz slowly grew on the drama. More importantly, praise for performances for stars Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton. However, without a major indie studio behind it how could it really make a mark? In past years no, but 2010 is a whole new ball game.

Surprisingly, distributor Oscilloscope Pictures (founded by the Beastie Boys Adam Yauch) has worked with the film's producers to fashion quite the underdog campaign. Harrelson has already landed Golden Globe, Indie Spirit and SAG nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Indie Spirit nominee Morton is considered a possible "surprise" contender in the Oscar race for Best Supporting Actress. Foster hasn't gotten quite the same love, but all three have worked hard to promote the picture.

Now, while "The Messenger" has only made a disappointing $654,000 since opening in November (it could have done more in as many as 50 theaters), the film's Academy screener campaign appears to be a huge success. Whether its through word of mouth or longtime vet Harrelson's participation, reliable sources are telling Awards Campaign that Academy members are talking up "The Messenger" and many plan to vote for it in their ten. This would be a somewhat shocking result considering the films theatrical returns, but the lack of other suitable contenders make it a much easier selection for most members. That's not to slight the critically acclaimed flick, but if "Nine," "The Lovely Bones" or "A Serious Man" were more liked they would certainly have trumped it.

Granted, today's PGA nods and the continuing threat of "The Blind Side" may make "The Messenger" an eventual woulda, coulda, shoulda if it was given an even more prominent release campaign, but at this point "The Messenger" may end up being the biggest surprise of Oscar nomination morning on Feb. 2. And yes friends, the big reveal is finally less than a month away.

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Postby Sabin » Fri Jan 01, 2010 11:01 pm

I don't know if I liked this movie more or less than I thought I would. I thought it was going to be a pretty conventional film about Ben Foster's illicit relationship with Samantha Morton, but it's not. It's about the soldier mentality, contrasting being of use abroad with being useless even while of use domestically. Sympathy for the Errand Boy.

The word meandering is pretty dead-on. It begins as an almost tightly formulaic film, announcing itself as a "Film About" in the first scenes, and then veers into naturalism off and on. Ultimately, I don't think the film ever finds its footing. I think about the movie that it could have been and I feared from the trailer and what we have here and I think I prefer the meandering version. It has its share of flaws but the way in which it meanders is interesting.

Oren Moverman is a director of behavioral scene pieces. He truly wants to stay out of the way of his performers. He's a very gracious director. What the film lacks in thrust, it gains in - as Damien says - an acute sense of sadness. The scenes of "Messengering" are as intensely sad as anything I've seen this year, bordering on invasion of privacy. I don't like his usage of stars in these roles, especially for all his power Steve Buscemi. But all the performances are good, especially Woody Harrelson. This role is a gift for him. It makes perfect use of his talents, and yet in any other year I'd be convinced he'd end up someone talked about in the margins of the race. I think Ben Foster is fine though a little miscast. He's so much stronger in supporting roles. You can see him trying and making choices the entire time, in a way that you can't with Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker. He has an outstanding monologue late in the film that he knocks out of the park. Between Foster, Maguire, and Renner, this was absolutely the year for PTSD American soldiers.

It's a worthwhile film of good intentions and sentiment.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Postby Damien » Fri Jan 01, 2010 3:06 pm

It meanders and there are contrivances in the narrative, but so many of the individual scenes are so powerful that even if the film as a whole doesn’t quite add up, it’s deeply affecting and definitely worthwhile. Anchored by a terrific Woody Harrelson performance, the movie has an acute sense of sadness.

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Postby The Original BJ » Mon Dec 14, 2009 4:47 pm

I finally caught up with The Messenger, and found it a powerful, well-acted film that gets rather lost in its last act. It's not a great film, but it's a must-view for anyone interested in this year's acting candidates.

It's interesting that both this and Up in the Air have opened around the same time -- both films feature protagonists who go to work traveling around giving people VERY BAD news. In Air, it's notifying workers that they've lost their jobs. In The Messenger, it's notifying family members that they've lost their loved ones in the war. Both films feature an experienced pro training a newbie with fresh ideas (though the protagonists in each film fill a different role).

The Messenger is, of course, a far more serious film, and a lot of the visits to the family members are exceedingly powerful (and rather diverse -- I thought the screenwriters did a fine job of showing us many different portraits of grief.)

Woody Harrelson clearly merits supporting actor consideration. He's tough and no-nonsense, often with a sly sense of humor, throughout a lot of the film. And then he gets a powerful scene near the end of the picture that shows how much his work in the military has taken a toll on him. I think once people get around to seeing the film, he'll move from dark-horse candidate to likely nominee.

Samantha Morton is also lovely in her performance. Her first scene is excellent, as she processes the notification that her husband has died in combat -- you can tell it hits her as a huge shock and yet she's completely prepared for it. Then she's got another great scene later in the film when she tells Foster what she misses about her husband, and what she doesn't. Morton's always been a mysterious screen presence -- you never really know what emotions she's hiding behind those big eyes and big cheeks -- and here she uses that very effectively to telegraph her character's confused, shifting feelings as her relationship with Foster develops.

Foster is good, too, though it's less of a dominant role. He's strong throughout and has a very powerful last act monologue, but I see his work here as more of a nice breakthrough for a promising performer than a knockout showcase role.

The end, as I said before, gets a little lost. I think the script sets up some very compelling relationships but gets a little bogged down in figuring out where to take them. And the final scene struck me as sweet, but a little predictable, especially for a film which had otherwise skirted some obvious cliches. But it's well-acted and definitely worth seeing, even if it isn't as wholly successful as some of this year's big efforts.

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