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Anthony Swofford on ‘The Messenger’

by Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camon

With “The Messenger,” Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camon have written a raw and humane portrait of the dire costs of war. Moverman, an Israeli, and Camon, an Italian, get to the heart of the current American zeitgeist using plain, direct language that is absolutely free of cliche and pandering. Their script respects both the actors who will play the parts and the audience members who will live with the characters as their lives are chewed up by the machinery of war. The emotional textures of the writing are impressive and range from a deep despair and loneliness to rich, bawdy humor, stirring pathos and forbidden eros. It’s easy to see why Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton jumped at the opportunity to play the three main characters.

This is a war film without onscreen war violence. The writers allow the domestic front, the war at home, centerstage. It’s a risk that pays off because the writers have been so careful creating characters that the viewer cares about. The casualty notification scenes are heartbreakingly rendered, and the way the writers ordered these scenes gives the film a tragic narrative complexity. Moverman and Camon weren’t afraid to render slowness and quietude: It’s as though the film itself, in the midst of being projected, is grieving for America’s dead sons and daughters.

Anthony Swofford is author of the novel “Exit A” and the memoir “Jarhead.”

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