DVD: The messenger (15)

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The Independent Culture

"You can't be an insurance salesman now, brother," Woody Harrelson's Captain Tony Stone informs his fellow grunt, Staff Sgt Will Montgomery (Ben Foster). Will, a "god-damn hero" who is serving out his last three months of duty after injury in Iraq, has been assigned to the "casualty notification team".

This grisly army division informs parents and spouses of their loved ones' death on active duty. Tony, a "lunatic commanding officer", is adamant that Will "stick to the script" to try and avoid any unpleasant reactions. But, of course, all their messages of death go wrong because they can't possibly go right. A mother slaps Tony hard in the face; a father (Steve Buscemi, excellent as always) yells "Why aren't you there? Why aren't you dead?" at Will. And, at another dwelling, a widow (Samantha Morton) acts with a polite shock that haunts Will more than the other bereaved.

Oren Moverman's debut feature ranks alongside other great "after the fighting's over films", such as The Best Years of Our Lives (post-Second World War) and Taxi Driver (post-Vietnam war), but also benefits from a darkly humorous script that recalls The Last Detail. But most of all this is blessed by two terrific central performances from Foster, as the damaged, sensitive and lost Will, and Harrelson, as the gruff, skirt-chasing, equally lost Tony. A powerful, angry and occasionally funny film.