“The Messenger” a sober notification of war
Dan Culberson | Mar 17, 2010
The Messenger is about one aspect of the modern-day Army that you don’t see much these days: the notification of next of kin that someone in their family has been killed in war.
However, the focus isn’t on the families who are notified. The focus is on two of the soldiers whose job is to do the notifications.
Ben Foster plays Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery. He was severely injured in combat, he has three months left to serve on his enlistment, and he is assigned to be one-half of the casualty notification team on an Army base.
The other half is Capt. Tony Stone, played by Woody Harrelson. Capt. Stone is a veteran at this unpleasant duty, and he tells Sgt. Montgomery, “We’re just here for notification, not God, not heaven.”
As further instruction, Capt. Stone says, “You do not speak with anyone other than next of kin. Avoid physical contact. In case you feel like offering a hug, don’t.”
And as one final word of advice, Capt. Stone says, “I should warn you, some of them do have guns.”
Their first notification together doesn’t go well at all, not that you could imagine that any of them would be easy.
Capt. Stone reveals to Sgt. Montgomery that he has been sober for three years and doesn’t drink anything stronger than soda pop. Although now single, he has been married three times, twice to the same woman.
Sgt. Montgomery, on the other hand, has just been informed by his girlfriend that she is getting married soon and to someone he knows.
Sgt. Montgomery tells Capt. Stone that he is ready to handle the second notification, and he informs a man that his son has been killed in combat, but that one doesn’t go well, either.
Finally, their third notification together goes better, this one to a woman about her husband, but Sgt. Montgomery gets affected enough to return to the widow’s house to see how she is holding up.
There are other encounters, as well, in public, and eventually the two of them become friends, which is strictly against Capt. Stone’s directions.
Unfortunately, Harrelson is all quirky mannerisms, and he acts as if he is always trying to upstage the other person, even when he is the only one onscreen.
The Messenger is a sober notification of war.