Mike Nichols on Oren Moverman

Novice director lauded for 'Messenger'

Some years ago the comic weekly the Onion had on its front page a photo of the Titanic with its stern in the air, poised to slide beneath the waves and the headline was “Greatest Metaphor of the Century Sinks!” Hospital shows have thrived on TV practically since its invention because they are about the two key subjects of drama: sex and death. Courtroom series are similarly omnipresent because every trial is an Aristotelian drama as well as a mystery with a revelation at the end.

Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger” expresses such a metaphor for the pain of war in the very description of the subject: two men of the military whose job is to inform families of the death of their loved ones. You would have to go back to the Montagues and the Capulets to find a more stunning expression of the heart of war. Moverman, in his first film, has a sure sense of the eloquence of the events themselves and lets the characters live before us in pain that cannot be expressed if they are to do their jobs from which they have no escape. He is not guessing on this subject, having served in the Israeli Army. He is also a born director.

The performances of Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster are almost documentary in their simplicity and truth. The camera in its fluid-best mode records and doesn’t underscore or make points: it simply shows us what is happening both around and within these men. Over and over they must steel themselves and bring the worst news on earth to people.

Like “The Lives of Others” it is a movie that hits you solidly in the chest with the shock of recognition.

A seven-time Tony winner for his direction, Mike Nichols most recently helmed the 2008 Broadway revival of “The Country Girl.”

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