The Messenger (2009)


Introduction

The Messenger is a 2009 war drama film starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, and Jena Malone.

Outline

On leave from the Iraq War, Will Montgomery, a US Army staff sergeant, finds that his girlfriend Kelly is engaged to another man. Before he is to be discharged, he is dispatched as a casualty notification officer along with Gulf War veteran Captain Tony Stone as his mentor. He is told of the importance of his task by Lieutenant Colonel Dorsett as many have failed. Stone then relays the rules of telling next of kin of a tragedy. On the job, their first report to the family prompts the mother to slap Stone, as she and his pregnant fiancé weep over the deceased; a man named Dale Martin angrily throws things at Will; a woman who secretly married an enlisted man cries in his arms after learning of the man’s death; a Mexican man who is told through a translator about the death of his daughter cries in front of his other child; and a woman named Olivia is in considerably less visible pain after learning of her husband’s death. Stone suspects it is due to her having an affair.

In a bar, Will and Stone discuss their lives to each other. Will talks about his girlfriend rejecting him and tells Stone about his father’s death due to drunk driving, along with tales of his estranged mother. Will sees Olivia with her son at a mall buying clothes for her husband’s funeral, breaking up a fight between her and two Army recruiters attempting to enlist teenagers, before offering her a ride. He fixes her car and becomes friends with both her and her young son Matt. After hearing a voicemail from Kelly talking about her upcoming wedding, he punches a hole through his wall in a fit of rage. He arrives at Olivia’s house and the two express affection for each other, but his attempts at physical intimacy are met with hesitancy as she tells him about how her husband mistreated her and her son.

When Will comforts a family in a local grocery store after telling them of their son’s fate, Stone physically berates him for it. Will stands up to his rank by using his first name “Tony” before walking home on his own. They later make up and spend the next few days together, where Stone has a hookup and unsuccessfully tries to get Will to do the same. They end up at Kelly’s wedding drunk and make a scene, fight in a parking lot, then wake up in a forest after passing out and go home. Martin is there, and he apologizes for lashing out at Will. In Tony’s apartment, Will tells Tony about his experience with a friend who died while fighting in Iraq – an event that resulted in his chronic damage to his left eye – and how he feels his bravery was meaningless as he could not do anything for him; he contemplated suicide soon after, but stopped himself when he saw the sunrise. Hearing this, Tony breaks down in tears.

The next day, Olivia decides to move from her house. She tells Will that she is going with her son to Louisiana; Will tells her he is considering staying in the army. He asks Olivia to let him know their new address; she asks him to come with her into the house.

Cast

  • Ben Foster as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery.
  • Woody Harrelson as Captain Tony Stone.
  • Samantha Morton as Olivia Pitterson.
  • Jena Malone as Kelly.
  • Steve Buscemi as Dale Martin.
  • Yaya DaCosta as Monica Washington.
  • Eamonn Walker as Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Dorsett.
  • Peter Francis James as Dr. Grosso.
  • Merritt Wever as Lara.
  • Gaius Charles as Recruiter Brown.
  • Brendan Sexton III as Recruiter Olson.
  • Carl Anthony Payne II as Pitterson’s Father.
  • Halley Feiffer as Marla Cohen.
  • Peter Friedman as Mr. Cohen.
  • Jeremy Strong as Returning Soldier.
  • Fiona Dourif as Returning Soldier’s Wife.
  • Michael Chernus as Alan.

Production

The Messenger marked the directorial debut of Israeli screenwriter and former journalist Oren Moverman. Though Sydney Pollack, Roger Michell, and Ben Affleck were all attached to direct the movie at various times, when those talks fell through, the producers eventually asked Moverman to helm the project. The filmmakers worked closely with the United States Army and the Walter Reed Medical Centre to conduct research on military life, and were specifically advised by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Sinor as a technical consultant.

Release

The Messenger premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival before receiving a limited release in North America in 4 theatres. It grossed $44,523 for an average of $11,131 per theatre ranking 46th at the box office, and went on to earn $1.1 million domestically and $411,601 internationally for a total of $1.5 million, against its budget of $6.5 million.

Trivia

  • It is the directorial debut of Oren Moverman, who also wrote the screenplay with Alessandro Camon.
  • The film premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and was in competition at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay and the Berlinale Peace Film Award ’09.
    • The film received first prize for the 2009 Deauville American Film Festival.
    • The film has also received four Independent Spirit Award nominations (including one win), a Golden Globe nomination, and two Oscar nominations.
  • The scene where Will (Ben Foster) and Olivia (Samantha Morton) speak to each other in her kitchen is eight minutes long and was shot in one take.
    • Co-writer and director Oren Moverman allowed actors and actresses to improvise in certain scenes.
  • The soldiers in the film wear a unit patch with a large “22” on it.
    • This is a fictional unit.
    • The actual 22nd Infantry Division was a “Phantom Division” that never actually existed.
    • It was created in World War II to fool German intelligence.
    • The patch created is different from the one in the film, though.
  • Despite its critical acclaim and Oscar nominations, this movie didn’t receive a theatrical release in the UK for nearly two years.
  • Co-writer and director Oren Moverman had wanted to have a scene with Will (Ben Foster) and Tony (Woody Harrelson) singing a song but couldn’t decide which song to sing, and settled on “Home on the Range” after hearing the song being played from an ice cream truck while scouting locations.
    • This is then paid homage to after Will’s first notification when he’s sitting in Will’s car and an ice cream truck passes by playing “Home on the Range”.
  • Sergeant Brian Scott, who was training to deploy to Iraq out of Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was a Technical Advisor on this film, was subsequently injured in an IED attack in Baghdad.
  • During the boating and fishing scene, Tony (Woody Harrelson) yells out “Charlie don’t surf!”
    • The line originated in Apocalypse Now (1979), set during the Vietnam War.
    • It was spoken by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) during the film’s surfing scene.
  • When the American servicemen and women who were extras and consultants on the film were told that Oren Moverman had previously served in the Israeli Defence Forces, the director was amusedly surprised when many of them went up to praise him for his service and provided a lot of extra help to the production.
    • Moverman asked one of the soldiers why his background was impressive, and the soldier told him “You’re an ally, and your experiences are real.”
    • Moverman also noted that while he served his required 3-year military term of conscription in Israel, he is personally anti-war and that he was probably more left-leaning than anyone else on set – except, he laughed, for Woody Harrelson.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Oren Moverman.
  • Producer(s):
    • Steffen Aumueller … executive producer (as Steffen Aumüller).
    • Gwen Bialic … co-producer.
    • Claus Clausen … executive producer.
    • Benjamin Goldhirsh … executive producer (as Ben Goldhirsh).
    • Mark Gordon … producer.
    • Lawrence Inglee … producer.
    • Raymond Mansfield … production executive.
    • Christopher Mapp … executive producer.
    • Zach Miller … producer.
    • Shaun Redick … executive producer.
    • Glenn M. Stewart … executive producer.
    • Matthew Street … executive producer.
    • David Whealy … executive producer.
    • Bryan Zuriff … executive producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Alessandro Camon.
    • Oren Moverman.
  • Music:
    • Nathan Larson.
  • Cinematography:
    • Bobby Bukowski … director of photography.
  • Editor(s):
    • Alex Hall.
  • Production:
    • Oscilloscope (presents).
    • Omnilab Media (presents) (as Omnilab Media Group).
    • Sherazade Film Development (in association with) (as Sherazade Film Development Co. Ltd.).
    • BZ Entertainment (in association with).
    • The Mark Gordon Company (as A Mark Gordon Company).
    • Good Worldwide.
    • All the Kings Horses (copyright owner).
    • Reason Pictures (uncredited).
  • Distributor(s):
    • Oscilloscope (2009) (USA) (theatrical) (as Oscilloscope Laboratories).
    • Distribution Company (2010) (Argentina) (theatrical).
    • Entertainment One (2010) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
    • Interfilm (2013) (Japan) (theatrical).
    • Lucky Red (2010) (Italy) (theatrical).
    • Senator Film (2010) (Germany) (theatrical).
    • The Works UK Distribution (2011) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Audio Visual Entertainment (2010) (Greece) (DVD).
    • CatchPlay (2010) (Taiwan) (all media).
    • Condor (2012) (France) (DVD).
    • Entertainment One (2010) (Netherlands) (DVD).
    • Entertainment One (2010) (Netherlands) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Film1 (2011) (Netherlands) (TV) (limited).
    • KinoVista (2010) (France) (all media).
    • Madman Entertainment (2010) (Australia) (all media).
    • Oscilloscope (2010) (USA) (DVD).
    • Oscilloscope (2010) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Panorama Distributions (2011) (Hong Kong) (DVD).
    • Panorama Distributions (2011) (Hong Kong) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Paris Filmes (2010) (Brazil) (all media).
    • Senator Home Entertainment (2010) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Topic (2019) (USA) (video).
    • Visionary Thinking (2017) (Yugoslavia) (TV).
    • Warner Home Video (2011) (USA) (video) (on demand).
    • Wide Pictures (2010) (Spain) (all media).
    • Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais (2010) (Portugal) (all media).
  • Release Date: 19 January 2009 (Sundance Film Festival).
  • Rating: 15.
  • Running Time: 113 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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