The Messenger


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

What's the worst job in America? Excluding those jobs which cause physical pain or disgust, it might be the job performed by the soldiers or sailors who act as "angels of death." Their assignment consists of telling people that the person they love most is dead. When any member of the American military dies in action, two others are designated to inform the next of kin immediately. The messengers must act quickly, because the soldier's family must be notified directly, before there is any possibility that they could hear the news from someone else. The military brass do not want the aggrieved next of kin to hear the somber news from some neighbors who watch cable news or surf the internet, or even worse, from some glib member of the local media. The responses to the messengers encompass every level of grief, from denial to despair to anger at the army. The messengers can get spit on, threatened, cursed, or even physically harmed. Even when the process goes as smoothly as possible, they know that their job is to render people inconsolable with unimaginable sorrow.

The Messenger - soon to be a breezy musical comedy!

There is some attention paid to the personal history of the two messengers and the means they use to help them cope with their onerous duty, but those elements of the film offer no relief from the overall sense of hopelessness. The senior officer (Woody Harrelson) is a bitter recovering alcoholic who seems incapable of making true human contact. His new partner (Ben Foster) is a young enlisted man who is recovering from battle-shock and, if that were not enough of a burden for him to bear, is also anguishing over the recent loss of a lifelong girlfriend.

Yup, since this is probably the most sensitive job within the military ranks, it is naturally entrusted to a redneck alkie who is still a captain despite obviously being about 50 years old! He in turn selects as his new partner an uneducated and shell-shocked motor pool sergeant with anger management issues and only three months left to serve. But the new man's inexperience is not a barrier to good performance, because the elderly captain gives him nearly three full minutes of training!

The structure of the film includes relatively little forward movement, concentrating instead on a series of vignettes in which the two men are pictured delivering the news to household after household, encountering different reactions. Many of these visits could be re-sequenced without affecting the film in any way. Although the film is plagued by inertia and one-note despondency, its serious themes are the official signal of an "important" movie, and it has therefore attracted the attention of film critics (90% positive reviews) and those societies which frequently confer awards on such grim efforts. Woody Harrelson has been nominated by many groups, including the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, to receive their "best supporting actor" award for his work as the senior messenger. In fact, the Detroit Film Critics gave Woody two of its five supporting actor nominations: one for The Messenger and one for his comic turn in Zombieland. (Neither won, however, as the trophy went to Cristoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds.) Harrelson's co-stars in The Messenger, Samantha Morton and Ben Foster, have attracted some award-season attention for their own performances, and Steve Buscemi also turned in two outstanding and emotionally resonant scenes as an aggrieved father.


3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
90 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
76 (of 100)


7.7 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. The critical and IMDb love was not shared by moviegoers, who were considerably less enthusiastic. The film never reached more than 50 theaters and grossed less than a million dollars, thus sharing the obscurity of so many good films with dark themes.



Lisa Joyce, in a unimportant role as one of Harrelson's one-night stands, does a full frontal scene. Woody Harrelson also shows his butt.

Jena Malone, as Ben Foster's ex-girlfriend, shows T&A in a dark sex scene.



Our Grade:


Beware: a good film, but  for a limited audience. Not a great film. Overrated by critics impressed with its self-importance..