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REVIEW: The Messenger ****


There are some dirty jobs in the military, but 'bereavement notification' is surely among the dirtiest.

This is the polite euphemism that describes the roles of the poor sods who turn up on people's doorsteps to tell them their son or brother or sister or father has been killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq.

In Oren Moverman's sombre and satisfying drama The Messenger, Ben Foster plays Will Montgomery, a decorated US army staff sergeant who has returned home and is near the end of his enlistment when he's reassigned to the casualty notification service.

Initially, Will and his new partner don't get along. Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) has been dealing with bereaved families for years, and doesn't think much of the new boy's chances of hacking it. Will doesn't think much of Tony's military service: the only action he saw was in the duck shoot otherwise known as the first Iraq War. But Tony's not as unfeeling as he makes out, and slowly a tentative understanding is formed.

Tony repeatedly advises Will to avoid deviating from the stiff protocol prescribed for dealing with bereaved families, but when the younger man meets a newly widowed young woman, he's tempted to commit the biggest faux pas of them all.

Slowly paced and cleverly written, The Messenger explores its themes tentatively, and paints a picture of a country divided between those who have directly experienced the unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and those who have not.

There are fine supporting turns from Samantha Morton and Steve Buscemi, and Foster and Harrelson are excellent in the meaty central roles.

Day & Night