The Messenger Movie Poster Image

The Messenger



Grim, intense war-themed drama is ultimately rewarding.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 105 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie has an overwhelming sense of negativity and helplessness, but there are hints of characters triumphing over adversity. Will initially deals with troubles through anger and drinking, but as his friendship grows with Olivia and Tony, he starts to learn tenderness and understanding. Tony, too, begins to allow himself to get close to Will and learn from his newfound compassion.

Positive role models

Will isn't exactly a shining role model -- he's conflicted, angry, confused, depressed, and frustrated. He very often gives into these tangled emotions, reacting with rage and drinking. But his new position begins to open his heart and give him some insight, and through his friendships with Olivia and Tony, he begins to look for more positive, hopeful outlets and learns patience and understanding.


The movie has a mostly simmering, unspoken violence. In his frustration, Will angrily hurls darts at his wall and listens to loud, harsh music. He and Tony get into a brief, mild shoving fight. Later, they team up against three bullies, but the movie cuts away from the actual fight directly to the results: cuts and bruises.


Will has sex with an ex-girlfriend in the film's first few minutes, with some rear and frontal female nudity and definite grinding/thrusting. Later, Tony has a naked girl in his bed, and there's full-frontal female nudity, as well as Tony's naked behind. Still later, Tony has noisy sex with another girl, but totally offscreen.


Frequent use of "f--k" and "f--king," as well as some use of "s--t." Other words include "balls," "ass," and "hell."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adult characters drink frequently and intensely, mainly to drown out their pain and fear. Tony is an alcoholic who's fallen off the wagon; the two men go on a long drinking binge at one point. Drinks range from beer to whisky.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Messenger is an intense but thoughtful drama about a wounded Iraq War veteran who's been assigned the very difficult task of informing people of their loved ones' deaths. It's a grim subject that certainly won't appeal to everyone -- though families with mature teens whose lives have been touched by war may find it very emotional and rewarding -- but it brings up some fascinating topics, including the ways that war changes people. The movie doesn't shy away from the raw aspects of soldiers' lives -- complete with strong language, fighting, heavy drinking, sex (including full-frontal nudity) and sex talk -- but it offers a lot to talk and think about.

What's the story?

With three months left to go on his tour of duty, wounded war veteran Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) finds himself assigned to notification duty, informing next of kin about their loved ones' deaths in Iraq. He's paired up with tough Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), who knows the job well and insists on sticking to rules and regulations. Together they meet a variety of characters and witness different forms of grief -- along the way, Will becomes instantly attracted to a beautiful new widow, Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), which runs against everything in the rulebook. Surprisingly, Will and Tony also begin growing closer, and Will learns about the turmoil lurking beneath Tony's hard façade.

Is it any good?


The tough, grim subject matter of THE MESSENGER certainly won't appeal to everyone, but the brave few who take it on will find themselves rewarded by intelligent, graceful, and touching filmmaking. Screenwriter Oren Moverman (I'm Not There) makes his directorial debut with quiet observance, focusing on genuine characters and emotions filled with shades of gray and getting a round of superb performances in the process.

Refreshingly, there's no sense of preaching or condescending, as in many Iraq War movies. After The Hurt Locker, The Messenger is one of the best and most useful looks at human feelings in a wartime atmosphere; it even makes attempts to look forward to a potentially better future, rather than dwelling on the horrors of the present. The movie's realism also includes some intense, unsettling behavior, as would be expected from jaded soldiers, and only older teenagers and parents should apply.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's timeliness. With wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, how do the issues in this movie resonate with real life? What do your kids think?

  • What do you think of the rules of notification, as laid down by Captain Tony Stone? Would a more personal touch, with introductions and physical contact, be more effective than a cold, military approach?

  • Is it unethical for Will to fall in love with Olivia?

  • Olivia at one point describes how the war changed her husband. How could people better prepare for or deal with the return of loved ones from the war?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 13, 2009
DVD/Streaming release date:May 18, 2010
Cast:Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Woody Harrelson
Director:Oren Moverman
Studio:Oscilloscope Pictures
Run time:105 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language and some sexual content/nudity

This review of The Messenger was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Violent, complex Iraq war drama is rough, tough, thrilling.
  • War/road trip dramedy is cliched but affecting.
  • Sad drama about loss may be too heavy for kids.
  • Intense, mature murder mystery tackles Iraq war.
  • Mature, violent war drama tackles heavy issues.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 14 years old Written byHTFMime December 11, 2010

This movie gaved me nightmares for a week. :(

I only watched it for an hour and then I left the room because it was so scary. I had to sleep in my mom's room.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?