‘Cynicism may not be the winning solution’

In “The Messenger,” Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), recovering stateside after being wounded in Iraq, is partnered with the rigid Army lifer Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) as a “bereavement notification” team. The Examiner spoke with Harrelson and director-writer Oren Moverman.

You have two radically different movies out simultaneously. “Zombieland” looks like pure fun. What drew you to “The Messenger”?  WH: It’s the most powerful, meaningful script I’ve ever done. And [it has such] wonderful lines that really it’s a privilege to be able to say ’em.

Will and Tony initially connect around their suppressed rage and fury. Woody, you said some years ago that when you stopped drinking and smoking dope, you “cried and cried” for awhile. In different circumstances, could you have become Tony Stone? WH: I really resonated with the character, so it’s hard to say what ways we overlap. I do feel in many ways like Tony Stone. Sometimes I hold things back and I don’t respond emotionally when I should.

What was it like to work with Ben Foster? WH: I think that Ben is one of the finest actors alive. He delivered a performance in this movie that, as I told him — I’m not just saying this behind his back — was one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. It was like being next to a young Sean Penn. 

Oren, as a first-time director, what lesson did you take with you from making this film? OM: What I learned is not to say “cut.” It’s a joy to see what the actors come up with. WH: He shot that nine-minute scene with no cutaways. Ben and Samantha didn’t even think the cameras were rolling, they thought it was a rehearsal!

One reviewer claims that Iraq war movies are “boring” and that “most of us just don’t want to see these kinds of movies anymore.” What would you say to those people? OM: First, I would say to these people, “Calm down!” Then to open their heart to the possibility that their cynicism is not going to be the winning solution to their lives. And then I would say that this is a movie about people who live with the consequences of war, this is an emotional movie, and you should see it if you’re interested in human beings. This film has a military background, but it’s actually about getting through life with friendship and love. If you can say, “I can’t be bothered with friendship and love,” then don’t be.

IF YOU GO

The Messenger

Starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi, Eamonn WalkerWritten by Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman

Directed by Oren Moverman

Rated R

Running time 1 hour 43 minutes

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