It can't be said that the Berlinale is no playground for young directors. Several newcomers had their first recognition in the Berlinale and went on major success in their careers. This year it was the time for Oren Moverman, the writer of I'm Not There, who brought to Berlin his first feature as a director, The Messenger, a drama straight from Sundance that has now competed for the Golden Bear in one of the most famous of all film festivals.
The film portrays the story of Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), an American sergeant who is working in the Casualty Notification Office of the Army, after being seriously wounded and having spent some time in a hospital in Iraq. In short, the story shows that Will's new work is to notify soldier's relatives of the death he barely escaped himself.
The gallery of reactions that Will and his companion Captain Stone (Woody Harrelson) had to face, while making their duty, were almost impossible to manage: they were rejected by the families notified, sometimes violently, sometimes with a sea of tears. The parade goes on, until they visit Olivia's home (Samantha Morton) to notify her of her husband's death, and Will falls in love with her.
Moverman, wisely and deliberately, did not drive his film onto a political or a military road. On the contrary, The Messenger is a picture about people, their choices, sorrows and anguishes, done in a very competent way. The intention of the director was clearly directed to put a focus on the horrible consequences of the war, and on the people that are trying to return to normal life after living in a hell and having survived.
The Messenger also goes beyond the clichés of the returning soldier, bringing all kinds of traumas and neurosis on his backpack. On the contrary, in the film there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. Bobby Bukowski's perspicuous photography is an asset to Moverman's film, as well as his own competent and original script. The sensitive acting of Foster and Morton are also highlights of this very interesting debut by a promising new director.