Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Any bugler who’s blown “Taps” knows bungling a note or holding one a half-second too long is tantamount to disrespect for those who died in military service.
2009’s The Messenger also concerned a posthumous rite that must go right — telling next of kin their loved one has died in combat. Most directors drench such scenes in drippy strings. Oren Moverman allowed each wrenching wail to peal and project onto casualty-notification team Capt. Tony Stone (Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster).
Moverman evokes Tony and Will’s spiking pulses and plummeting guts as they visit enraged fathers, widowed mothers and pregnant wives. Their varietal pain forms a patchwork of homefront war wounds — shifting proportions of rage, fear, respect and empathy. (The always-fearless Samantha Morton excels as a dowdy widow enraged by seeing a shiny sales pitch for military service.)
As for Tony and Will, Moverman and Alessandro Camon’s Oscar-nominated screenplay minds the minutiae of a job in which there are no satisfied customers. Embellishment is the enemy. Use action verbs to reinforce valor and honor. Say “killed” or “died,” not “lost” or “expired.”
It’s sublime to watch Harrelson become Robert Duvall, doling out rules with gravel, grit and gusto and muscles visibly twitching beneath his head. But, hardened as Tony and Will are, they must nakedly and gruffly confront their own failings and conflicts.
The Messenger is a draining drama, but not a numbing one — an agnostic anthem to the impossibility of applying predictive methods to grief.