The Messenger? More like The Meh-senger. Okay, now that I've fulfilled my quota of one bad pun per blog post, I can get on with this review.
The Messenger is focused on two soldiers in the Army who are casualty notification officers, which means that they're the two soldiers you always see telling people that their family members have died in movies. In this movie, rather than following the families, the movie focuses on the soldiers themselves, who are expertly played by Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster.
Harrelson's one of the best actors Hollywood has to offer, for roles both comedic and dramatic. In this movie, Harrelson demonstrates his versatily as an actor, changing emotions at the drop of a hat. And despite his recognizable face and voice, I completely forgot that he was Woody Harrelson, and believed almost entirely that he was the lonely, hard-ass soldier that he plays. Ben Foster is also fantastic. He does sort of have a baby-face and a less deep voice than Harrelson, which can be a bit distracting when he's trying to act serious and tough, but when he needs to sell or convey an emotion to the audience through his character, he does it perfectly. These two leads are great, and the dynamic between them is entertaining and realistic. The one big flaw is the story.
The pacing is odd, there's nothing truly spectacular going on around or happening to these characters, they're just interesting people on their own. Without Foster's love interest, played by Samantha Morton, there's really no plot here. The movie's just the story of two guys who grow to be pals with the backdrop of them working as casualty notification officers and a romantic subplot thrown in the mix to move things along, which it doesn't really do anyway. There's probably only about twenty minutes involving Morton and Foster's characters out of an almost two hour movie, and it never really goes anywhere that's interesting or engaging to watch.
The biggest problem here is that the movie never goes for the gusto. It never gets as dark as it should, and even for the few brief scenes in which it does, I never felt anything. There was no emotional resonance. Maybe it's just because I have no soul, but I suspect it's just bad filmmaking instead.
Last year, a movie was released for Oscar consideration called The Wrestler. The Wrestler was a dark, depressing, lonely masterpiece that succeeded on every level that this film didn't, aside from the performances, which were great in both films. The Wrestler has those emotional, gutwrenching, heartbreaking scenes, whereas this movie didn't. It tries, but for some reason, I just didn't feel it. Maybe it needed to be longer, which is a weird thing to say about a movie I didn't like that much. Perhaps if it was longer, it could have had more plot development and extended some of its shorter scenes. That being said, it's not a boring two hours by any means, but it's still a waste of time. The only reason it's not total crap is for it's two lead performances, and the development of its main characters.