Volume 79, Number 24 | November 18 - 24, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Woody Harrelson as Anthony ‘Tony’ Stone and Ben Foster as Will Montgomery in Oscilloscope Pictures’ ‘The Messenger.’

Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“The Messenger” (+ )
This is an extraordinary anti-war film that does not engage in polemics.  Its extreme effectiveness is due to the brilliant acting of the two principal characters — played by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.

Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), who demonstrated great courage under fire in Iraq, is sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and given an interim assignment while waiting for his discharge from the service.  He is paired with Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a career Army man.  They are assigned to visit fallen soldiers’ next of kin to deliver the sad news of the soldier’s death.

Tony instructs Will on how it is to be done.  They are to read from a script, offering the condolences of the Secretary of the Army, and never to physically touch the next of kin unless the individual appears to be in need of assistance, like having a heart attack, after hearing the news.  Their encounters with family members have enormous impact on them and the movie audience.

In one case, Dale Martin (Steve Buscemi), the father of a fallen soldier, can’t accept the news and begins to strike Will, the messenger.  On another occasion, a mother and a pregnant girlfriend receive the news and engage in withering screams.  On a third call, the news is delivered to a young, white woman, Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), whose fallen husband is African American.  This encounter leads to a relationship between Samantha and Will.  The conversations and arguments between Will and Tony ring true to life and are brilliantly acted.

All in all, the message of this low-keyed film that doesn’t lecture is very clear. If you go to war, it better be for a good cause and one that makes acceptable the deaths and assaults that inevitably will follow.  For millions, including me, that does not now exist in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  It is time to bring our troops home.  Those in Iraq are scheduled to return early next year and at the latest by December 31, 2011.  That is not true for our troops in Afghanistan — where our shoring up a corrupt government is still open-ended unless President Obama reverses our policy.

The anti-war movies are getting better in delivering their messages.  I recommend “The Messenger” with the same fervor that I recommended “The Hurt Locker.”  Be sure to see both of them.

HS said:  “This was a first-rate film which sends a powerful message about the consequences of war without trashing America.  It is also a male bonding film which shows two men who develop powerful emotional ties but are not gay.  I had a similar job when I was 16 years old — as a Western Union messenger delivering telegrams in Washington Heights.  When a telegram contained a death message, I learned to deliver the closed envelope, get the recipient’s signature, and walk downstairs quickly without waiting for a tip.  The movie is neither morbid nor judgmental; it is worth seeing.”

Rated R. 1 hour, 45 minutes. At the Angelika Film Center (18 West Houston Street, at Mercer Street). For screening times, call 212-995-2000 or visit www.angelikafilmcenter.com.

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