This 2009 release stars Ben Foster as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery and Woody Harrelson as Captain Tony Stone, two U.S. Army soldiers detailed with the unenviable task of making in-person notifications to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. This critically acclaimed movie won several awards and earned Woody Harrelson Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations in the category of Best Supporting Actor. But because of its utterly heartbreaking storyline, a dark subject matter seldom addressed by Hollywood and a release while U.S. troops were still fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, this movie has not played to a wide audience.
Foster and Harrelson must avoid all physical contact with the next of kin they are charged with notifying and Harrelson instructs Foster, “In case you feel like offering a hug or something, don’t.” We accompany them as they go from family to family, delivering news nobody wants to receive. We see the emotional toll it takes on the families while we witness Foster and Harrelson fighting to contain their own emotions and maintain their military bearing as the worlds of those around them crumble. We also bear witness as Foster and Harrelson struggle with PTSD, a residual effect of their combat experience that’s triggered by their challenging assignment. Veteran character actor Steve Buscemi gives a brief, haunting performance as the father of a young soldier killed in Iraq.
This is not a feel-good movie, but it is worth watching. Thankfully, this is a side of war most of us will only experience vicariously through movies like “The Messenger.” For too many American families, though, this is a glimpse at their reality.
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