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The Messenger
Director: Oren Moverman (Dir)
Release Date:   20 Nov 2009
Duration (in mins):  105 or 111-112
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Cast: Ben Foster  (Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery)
  Jena Malone  (Kelly)
  Eamonn Walker  (Colonel Stuart Dorsett)
 

Summary: Soon after his discharge from a military base hospital in New Jersey, Army Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery meets his childhood girlfriend, Kelly. After the couple has sex in a hotel, they dine and Kelly confesses that she is seeing another man, Alan, but does not believe it is serious enough for marriage. Will placidly assures her that he accepts the situation, but Kelly departs unconvinced. The next day at the base, Will meets with Col. Stuart Dorsett, who informs him that for the final three months of his service, Will is assigned to a Casualty Notification team with Capt. Tony Stone, who is also present at the meeting. Taken aback, Will states that he has never had grief counseling, but Tony explains that their job is to notify next-of-kin of a death, not discuss religion or offer comfort. Dorsett emphasizes the serious nature of the duty, describing it as a responsibility requiring character. Later while dining at the mess hall together, Tony tells Will that while their job can cover situations of missing or believed-dead personnel, the majority of the notifications are confirmed deaths. Presenting the official manual to Will, Tony advises him to memorize the script provided and never deviate from it. When Will looks dubious, Tony goes on to explain procedural details, such as never referring to the dead as “the deceased,” but to always use their name to honor them and their sacrifice. Tony also stresses that they are only to deliver notifications to the specified individuals and regulations forbid them touching the next of kin at any time. Adding that the military strives to notify the families of casualties within twenty-four hours of identity confirmation, Tony gives Will a pager and orders him to keep it near him at all times. Soon after, the men receive an assignment. As the men walk up to the house, Tony continues giving Will advice, such as not to offer any kind of greeting or give his name as both are inconsequential under the circumstances of their visit. At the house, when a young woman, Monica, answers the door, Tony asks for Mrs. Burrell and is told she will return momentarily. When Tony hesitates, Monica invites them inside, certain that they must be there about her boyfriend LeRoy, who she admits is always in trouble. Initially chatty, Monica reveals that she is pregnant, but asks them not to inform LeRoy as she has not told him yet. Noting the men’s continued solemn demeanor, however, Monica grows anxious and demands that they tell her why they have come. Just as Tony tells Will they must leave, Mrs. Burrell arrives. Tony turns to her and informs her of LeRoy’s death. Weeping, Mrs. Burrell demands Tony stop speaking and when he continues reciting the required lines, she slaps him before collapsing into Monica’s arms. Back in the car, Tony telephones in his report that the family is in the care of neighbors and that the formal military grief control unit can be sent. That evening at a bar, Tony admits that he is a recovering alcoholic then confides that he served in Middle East operation Desert Storm where he received his battle “baptism.” Tony then asks Will about the mission in which he was injured, but Will does not respond. Late that night, Will is startled when the pager goes off, then annoyed when Tony calls to admit to setting it off himself just to test Will and chat as he has trouble sleeping. In the middle of their conversation, however, the pager goes off for a real assignment. Early the next morning, Will insists that he perform the notification as they are meant to switch roles. Although unsure, Tony agrees. The men arrive at the home of Dale Martin, but when no one answers the door after several moments, they turn to depart when Martin sees them from the garden and approaches. Alarmed upon seeing their uniforms, Martin curses the men and after Will formally delivers the news, notes in despair that a nearby tree is the same age as his son. He then curses Will and spits on him, demanding to know why he is alive and not serving overseas, before calling him a coward. That afternoon Will telephones Kelly, but when Alan answers, he hangs up. On the next assignment, the men arrive at the home of Olivia Pitterson who is hanging laundry on an outside clothesline. As the men approach, Olivia steps forward and asks “How did it happen?” Concerned, Tony asks if anyone has contacted her, but she again presses for details. After Tony officially gives her the known details of her husband Phil’s death, Olivia thanks them and looking anxiously back at the house, explains she has a young son. Thanking the men again, Olivia shakes each one by the hand, then worriedly asks if she is supposed to inform Phil’s parents. Tony confirms that they are in Florida and states that Olivia was listed as the primary next of kin, but now that she has been informed, military representatives in Florida will proceed to tell Phil’s parents. When Will stiffly asks Olivia if she wants them to inform her son of Phil’s death, she politely refuses and shaking them by the hand again, goes into the house. Walking back to the car, Tony remarks that Olivia must be seeing someone as there was a man’s shirt hanging on the clothesline , but Will cautions him that they know nothing about the people they visit. That evening before joining Tony at the bar, Will sits outside of Olivia’s house in his car, watching her and her son, Matt, eat dinner. At the bar, Tony relates that he joined the army on a dare and, so far, no one has dared him to leave. Tony then dares Will to reenlist. A few days later, Will sees Olivia and her son as they shop in a mall. Seeing two army recruiting officers speaking with two teenage boys, Olivia angrily confronts them, demanding that the soldiers leave the young men alone. Will intervenes, ordering the soldiers away and offering Olivia assistance, which she refuses. Later spotting Olivia and Matt waiting at a bus stop, he offers them a ride home. On the drive to the next assignment, Tony expresses his disapproval of Will seeing Olivia, but Will ignores him. At the Cohen home, the men’s arrival sets off consternation when it becomes apparent that a young wife, Marla, has not informed her father that she is married. Ignoring the pair’s argument, Tony informs Marla of her husband’s death, stunning both daughter and father. At a bar that evening, Will listens to a returning soldier cheerfully tell his young wife and friends of an Iraqi he befriended. When the young man then adds that he witnessed the Iraqi’s violent death, Will grows concerned and follows the man outside. There, Will attempts to get the young man to talk about the difficulties of returning home, but the man insists that he is happy. A few days later, Will observes the burial service of Olivia’s husband from a distance. On Tony and Will’s next notification assignment, they are joined by Captain Garcia who serves as a translator at the apartment of Mr. Vasquez. Confused by the men’s announcement of the death of his daughter the night before, Vasquez insists they must be mistaken as he had spoken to his daughter days earlier. Back at his apartment, Will listens to a phone message from Kelly apologizing about sending him an invitation, which she and Alan fought about. Hastily going through a pile of several days of unopened mail, Will finds the envelope which holds an announcement for Kelly and Alan’s wedding. Furious, Will pounds a hole in his bedroom wall. The next day, Will visits Olivia to present Matt with his unit’s flag. When Matt hesitates, revealing that he already has two flags, Olivia tells him to accept Will’s gift. Later, Olivia tells Will that she and Matt will be moving away, but is unsure where, then invites Will to stay for dinner. One afternoon a few days later, Olivia invites Will to the storage building where she works, offering him his choice of any uncollected items. Acknowledging Will’s interest in her, Olivia reminds him that people will believe he is taking advantage of her in her grief, then criticize her for not grieving an appropriate length of time. At her home later, when Will tentatively embraces Olivia and suggests they “dance,” Olivia initially accepts, then grows uncomfortable with the intimacy, which Will respects. Olivia tells Will that when Phil departed for his third tour, remaining at home, for him, was not an option. She admits to being relieved by his departure as he was no longer the man she had married long ago. Olivia then confides that one day, a shirt of Phil’s slipped off it hanger and, retrieving it, she smelled the odor of rage and frustration, so she washed it. The day she did was the day Will and Tony came with the news of Phil’s death. Apologizing, Olivia admits that she loved Phil before and, with his death, loves him again. Will assures Olivia that he understands. On the way to their next assignment, the men stop at a convenience store for Tony to use the lavatory and Will overhears the clerk’s salutation to Mr. and Mrs. Flanigan, their next notification. As Tony returns, Will goes directly to Flanigan and confirms his identity. Realizing with a shock why Will is asking, Flanigan blanches and vomits, dropping to his knees. Uncomprehendingly, Mrs. Flanigan bends to her husband. Will then kneels in front of them and holding Flanigan’s hand and placing his other hand on Mrs. Flanigan’s shoulder, formally tells them of their son’s death. Walking back to the car afterward, Tony explodes with anger, chastising Will for breaking with procedure. When Tony warns Will that he works for the army, Will responds that he gave blood to the army and was blown up in an incident that lasted longer than Tony’s entire war. Will adds that he fought during his tour and, unlike veterans of the swift Desert Storm conflict, did not sun himself in Kuwait. Outraged, Tony throttles Will for a moment, but when the younger man stands firm, he drives away alone. Later, Tony turns around to pick Will up, but Will ignores him and hitchhikes home. Later than evening, Tony telephones Will to say the CO has allowed them time off and he will provide a get-away. The next day, with two girls, Claire and Lara, brought by Tony, the couples drive to a vacation cottage near a lake. While Will and Lara play pool, a tipsy Tony and Claire have enthusiastic sex. The following afternoon, the men sit in a small boat fishing and Tony admits this is not the first time he has gone off the wagon, but the first time he is being open about resuming drinking. Infuriated when two water skiers blow by them moments later, Tony curses them and almost falls overboard. Later at the dock, the skiers confront the men and there is a brawl. In the car later, Tony apologizes for provoking the fight and Will drives them to Kelly and Alan’s wedding reception, where the filthy and bloodied men toast the married couple, before running out in the parking lot to drunkenly play “war.” Waking up hung over by the side of the road the next morning, Tony admits that being assigned to Casualty Notification saved him from himself, then admits that he lied and has never experienced being under fire. Arriving home late that night, the men are met by Martin Dale, who asks Will to forgive him for his behavior upon the notification of his son’s death. Will says there is nothing to forgive and the men shake hands. Inside, Will describes his last mission to Tony: On their attempt to reach a position, Will and his unit were pushed back by a bomb detonating. Will dragged two men to safety, then saw another lying in the road with his hands in the air. Evading enemy fire, Will pulls the man behind a car and assures him that his hands are fine, but that half of his leg has been blown off. Attempting to keep the wounded soldier safe, Will pushes him under a car, unknowingly, directly onto a bomb, which then blows up, severely injuring Will. At a hospital later, Will is presented with a medal, but believes he is unworthy as his action killed one of his men. Will then admits to Tony that he considered suicide, but while standing on the hospital rooftop saw the sunrise and wanted to live. When Will goes to the fridge for more beer, he hears Tony break into sobs and leaves him alone to cry. Some days later, Will visits Olivia who is packing to move to Louisiana. Will asks if she will write him with her new address as he has no difficulties making long trips. Olivia agrees and they go into the house for Will to give her his address. 

Distribution Company: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Production Company: Omnilab Media Group
Sherezade Film Development Co. Ltd.
BZ Entertainment
The Mark Gordon Company
Good Worldwide
Director: Oren Moverman (Dir)
  Curtis A. Smith Jr. (1st asst dir)
  Scott Larkin (2d asst dir)
  Timothy S. Kane (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Mark Gordon (Prod)
  Lawrence Inglee (Prod)
  Zach Miller (Prod)
  Ben Goldhirsh (Exec prod)
  Christopher Mapp (Exec prod)
  Matthew Street (Exec prod)
  David Whealy (Exec prod)
  Glenn M. Stewart (Exec prod)
  Steffen Anmüller (Exec prod)
  Claus Clausen (Exec prod)
  Bryan Zuriff (Exec prod)
  Shaun Redick (Exec prod)
  Gwen Bialic (Co-prod)
Writer: Alessandro Camon (Wrt)
  Oren Moverman (Wrt)

Subject Major: Death and dying
  Family relationships
  Friendship
  Grief
  United States. Army
  Widows
 
Subject Minor: Automobiles
  Bars
  Deception
  Drunkenness
  Fathers and daughters
  Fathers and sons
  Fistfights
  Funerals
  Military bases
  Mothers and sons
  Parties
  Police
  Sex
  Translators
  Veterans
  Wives
  Wounds and injuries

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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