A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
- In theaters: November 13, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: May 18, 2010
- Cast: Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Woody Harrelson
- Director: Oren Moverman
- Studio: Oscilloscope Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some sexual content/nudity
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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