Woody Harrelson has been proving this unlikely truth for years -- that he was, in fact, the most talented member of the Cheers ensemble. He gets another chance to show his range in The Messenger, the latest feature film to put a spotlight on the horrors of war.
Harrelson plays Capt. Tony Stone, a tough soldier with a thankless job. He notifies the N.O.K. (next of kin) when their spouse/child/sibling has been killed in the line of duty. Will Montgomery, a young, sensitive solider (played by the phenomenal Ben Foster -- where'd he come from? -- who looks like a cross between Ryan Gosling and Dustin Diamond) is assigned to work with Stone in delivering the grim news.
Stone warns him to keep a safe emotional and physical distance from the bereaved. This kid is clearly not going to be able to roll that way.
Harrelson plays angry and twitchy as well as anyone. (Willem Defoe, Robert Downey, Jr. and Colin Farrell are other greats in this category.) He keeps his rage mostly in check, but we know he's seething just below the surface.
Jena Malone shows up just long enough to get on my last nerve, as she always does. The usually great Samantha Morton plays a one-note character -- a widow informed of her husband's death by Stone and Montgomery. Young Will takes a shine to her immediately and embarks on a little stalking of her from a safe distance. This part of the film feels forced and unnecessary -- almost as if someone said, "We gotta throw in a little romance to get women between the ages of 22 - 44 to see this thing!"
The sweetest and most interesting story is the one that develops between the two soldiers as they grow to respect and understand each other. The Messenger is never as interesting as when Harrelson and Foster are on screen together, but there's enough of them to make this flick worth your time. See it.