Oren Moverman's The Messenger is riveting stuff, at least for the majority of its running time, with strong performances and a sharp screenplay. For most of the film we simply observe Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and new recruit Will (Ben Foster) on their duties to notify the NOK (next of kin) within 24 hours after a loved one has been killed in combat. Harrelson's performance is very impressive here: Tony is skilled in the job, able to shut down emotionally in the situations, but Harrelson's face nonetheless registers the pain that goes along with this work. And the film is unsparing in these notification scenes, forcing us to watch as people register the shock of losing their husbands and sons, sobbing, collapsing, sometimes even turning violent. Tension builds between Tony and Will due to the newcomer's tendency toward empathy: Will even strikes up a complex relationship of sorts with a grieving widow. A road trip segment near the end threatens the film's otherwise tight focus, but it fully recovers with a lengthy, powerful scene in which Will relates his own wartime experiences to a mostly silent Harrelson, who somehow manages to steal the scene just by listening intently.
Once again, we have a strong war film that audiences are steadfastly avoiding, but hopefully Harrelson will get a supporting actor nod and bring the film a little of the attention it deserves.