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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Messenger

Doing a job nobody wants to do

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 19, 2009 -- One of the worst jobs there is is notifying the next of kin of the death of a family member. It is a necessary job, but it is very unpleasant and sometimes dangerous as the messengers (as in “don't kill the messenger”) are sometimes right in the line of fire of violent emotions like anger. They are cursed, spit on, hit and have objects thrown at them. It is bad enough dealing with all that grief and sorrow, the rest is above and beyond the call.

This is the job of two such messengers in this film, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (played by Ben Foster of “30 Days of Night”) and Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson of “Zombieland”). Foster, recently out of the hospital after serving in the Iraq War, is in the last three months of his tour of duty when he is assigned the dreaded death notice detail, along with the older, and more experienced officer Stone. Neither Tony nor Will are who they seem to be at first. Both of them carry secrets that they don't readily reveal. After they get to know each other, the secrets start to come out.

Tony believes in doing the notifications by the book and has a strict rule about not touching the person being notified. It turns out he is afraid to emotionally touch anyone or be touched by them. When Will breaks the rule, he yells at Tony, “They are just people!” Will doesn't like the duty, but he decides to do his part. His heart is touched by a young widow, Olivia Pitterson (played by Samantha Morton of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”). He begins to visit Olivia, despite objections by Tony, who feels it is immoral to date recent widows they have notified. Then again, maybe it is just Tony acting out his fear of emotional attachments. Will, whose former girlfriend, Kelly (Jena Malone of “Into the Wild”) has recently left him and has already accepted a marriage proposal from another man, seems to need his growing attachment to Olivia and her young son, Matt (Jahmir Duran-Abreau).

Tony is emotionally needy and hopes that Will doesn't leave the military when his tour is up. He wants to keep working with Will, who seems to be headed in another direction. Will is called a hero by the army, but doesn't feel like one. He finally explains why to Tony, who has a confession of his own related to the Gulf Wars. This film is as much about the relationship between Will and Tony as anything else. The screenplay of this film wanders a bit off point, but the acting is very strong.

In an indirect sense, this film is also about the reality of war as opposed to the illusions about war. This can be summarized in a quotation from Chris Hedges, journalist, author, and war correspondent, who said, “The vanquished know war. They see through the empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of glory, honor, and patriotism to mask the cries of the wounded, the senseless killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief.” These messengers have seen both sides of war. They know the hype, and they have seen the grief that all the folded flags, all the 21-gun salutes, all the polished boots, all the crisp uniforms, all the pomp and all the solemn soundings of Taps cannot heal. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)