Thursday, August 26, 2010

How they killed THE MESSENGER

The Messenger (2010) is a brilliant 30-minute film about two men commanded to do an impossible, soul-destroying job. After that first 30 minutes, there is mixed up pile of melodrama and faux humor which discards the value of the work done at the outset.

That might be too extreme. As long as the film adheres to the specifics of casualty notification procedure, it retains a certain balance and tension between natural human inclinations and the protocol established, a protocol which has evidently proved effective in protecting family members and the persons serving in the notification unit. Yes, it's artificial, but it's proven to be safe.

Then apparently, someone said, "Well, let's see what happens when these experienced and loyal officers decide to toss out their training and discipline and act like any ordinary lunkhead." So one notifier strikes up a tentative romance with a widow (yecch!) and the other one falls off the wagon (after, evidently, many years on) and it all feels as though the scriptwriter was working away, getting the job done, then took a break, watched The Last Detail, and decided, "That's what we need--a lot of overcooked histrionic horse crap!"

One of the pleasures about stories about the military (this is especially true of the British military) is those moments when everyone involved knows that what is needed is the suppression of emotion and adherence to protocol. This fuels some of the best John Ford films, in which personal desire is sublimated to duty. The Messenger is indulgent in a way that seems like an outsider, a non-military person, imagining how they would act in this situation. Without any narrative destination, the movie walks around in a big circle, like a dog looking for a place to lie down, and goes to sleep.

There is no technique in the film to speak of. Long takes to let actors do their long, drawn-out thing. Other than letting the camera run there does not appear to be any awareness of the possibilities of film technique.

I don't want to sound callous. But officers value professionalism. And so do some filmmakers. But not the ones you see in this film.

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