After a week and a half of shows in Iraq during Thanksgiving 2007 I was on a C-130 flying from Baghdad to Kuwait. What was supposed to be a routine 40-minute flight turned into a much different journey. We were diverted back to the airfield in Balad to pick up “HR”. That is the code for Human Remains. We got off the aircraft and watched an honor guard load a flag draped coffin onto our plane. We then flew from Balad down to Kuwait. I remember hearing my mom cry in my mind and knowing that some family is getting the worst news possible. I have wondered how the family is told about this horrible news. This film gives good insight about that process and the people assigned to this detail.
I had heard very little about this film. It played in LA for just a week to qualify for Oscar consideration in December. I just saw it last week at 11 in the morning because that was the only time it played. I wanted to see if Woody Harelson deserved the nod and how the film stands up on it own. I wanted to see how they would handle the subject matter. How was Hollywood going to show what it is like for the soldiers who notify families about a casualty? That alone intrigued me. And it worked.
Woody Harrelson plays the Army lifer who has to train the new kid, Ben Foster. Foster is a wounded Iraq war combat vet who has to serve out his remaining time in the casualty notification unit. Foster is decorated for bravery in combat but it becomes clear that he does not feel that he is a hero. This plays underneath the obvious uneasy feeling he has about his new detail. Harrelson deals with his task through regulations and the bottle. Foster falls for a widow of a fallen soldier, played wonderfully by Samantha Morton and this slowly brings down the wall of detachment. Messenger takes us through what this job is like and the people who are assigned to carry it out in a very personal and real manner.
I liked this film a lot. I realize it hit me personally and the notification scenes are brutally real and brought me to tears. I cried as I wondered about the family in November 2007 who was told that their loved one was not coming home. To this day I have no idea the name of the soldier on that C-130, but director Oren Moverman brilliantly made it real. He, along with a great script (co-written by Moverman) and cast, complete a very good film. Harrelson is deserving of the nomination and Foster should have received one as well. Messenger gives good insight into a job that doesn’t get talked about and how it affects everyone that is involved. Go see this film, in a theater, Netflix it but don’t miss it. If you do then PALM STRIKE yourself.