Saturday, January 02, 2010


Cast: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Jena Malone
Director: Oren Moverman
Runtime: 105 min.
Verdict: Thoroughly uninteresting except for the question of filmmaking morality
Genre: Drama

        I wouldn’t have ever reviewed this thoroughly mediocre film had it not been for the scenes involving the grief-stricken families that William Montgomery (Mr. Foster) and Tony Stone (Mr. Harrelson) visit and disclose the news of the death of their dear in the Iraq war. That is their profession and the film deals with their lives. It is a road film, I guess, and a buddy film, and it works on neither of the levels. That would be because of the hyper-histrionics of Mr. Foster, who I was might impressed with in 3:10 to Yuma, and who here thoroughly disappoints with a mechanically-driven grim dialog delivery. And because there is nothing in the script nor the movie that creates anything interesting between the two, always pulling stuff about war we have already seen a million times. Stuff like war anecdotes. Stuff like them being absolute socially inept nutcases. I don’t know. Mr. Harrelson does a fine job though. He has consistently been one of our most interesting actors.
        What interests me about the film though are the scenes, where the two follow the standard operating procedure of breaking the news to the unfortunate families. The scenes are filmed just about brilliantly, with a hand-held camera, and except for Mr. Buscemi, they are all unknown actors playing the part. Within the opening hour there are at least five or six such families and all of them offer different reactions, each moving, and each tragic. And herein lays my question – When does filmmaking stop about being good filmmaking, and as my friend Srikanth asks, becomes a moral choice? I think the scenes are deeply effective, all of them, but with six of them packed neatly within the first hour, aren’t they the film’s money shots. Especially when the rest of it is completely uninteresting, and as a viewer, I had to fast forward the film to the next grief scene. They were all turning out to be like well done car-chases, each one of them surprising. Does that make the film gratuitous, because hey, there is a sex scene right at the start, that shows a lot of posterior, and I couldn’t really make any sense out of its inclusion.
        The film neatly edits these scenes, alternating between the reactions of the two principal actors, who react with wonderful emotion (anybody would), and the painful display of the grief of the families. Fathers, mothers, girlfriends. You know, the film has got the entire range. I think that is deeply immoral. To rake up money and applauds out of grief is I guess a tad immoral. You want evidence? See the last shot, and for that matter every shot between Montgomery and Olivia (Ms. Morton), which evoke nothing except for the question as to when they will, you know, indulge in the good old-fashioned in-out. And the film ends on that note, both walking into her house, after having so neatly explained each other in the previous scenes to absolve the film and themselves of anything. Did I say I hate that?


Just Another Film Buff said...

oh, so all the hype was for THIS movie?

You know, Satish, nowadays I don't completely regret watching a bad movie. Because, it invariably helps me to go back to all the movies I've loved/hated and gives me a chance to reassess them.

Commercial cinema, all of it, is exploitative on one level or the other (But that was only a minor problem for me in Avatar, I think). I guess, we, the viewers, will have to take a call on what is acceptable and what is not.

As the judge who called the shots about that Louis Malle film said: "I know it when I see it"

From your review, The Messenger does sound like a little crooked.

man in the iron mask said...

Exactly Srikanth. Earlier, I would curse myself for watching a bad film, and somehow would feel the obligation to watch it from start to finish. Every moment of it. I don't feel that anymore, because hey, there is so much of good stuff out there and the only one I got to be obligated to is me. So now, when there is a bad movie, I zip through it. And god knows, there is something to be learnt from most movies, if not all.

Exploitative? Hell yes. And as for the The Messenger, you will know it when you see it, er, skim through it.