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The Messenger

Understated performances seal the deal on this homefront drama

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Back from Iraq with an injury -- tellingly, his eyes can't "cry" -- a young Army sergeant (Ben Foster) gets re-assigned. His new job: partnering with a career captain (Woody Harrelson) as part of a death-notification duo. They drive to shabby apartments and neat suburban homes alike to tell wives, fathers, girlfriends and children that that their loved one is never coming back.

It's a gut-wrenching assignment, but burying emotions is critical to its successful completion. There's a prepared script, a set of bland instructions the two men repeatedly intone, while survivors rage at them, furiously demanding a more human reaction.

How these men deal with this, as well as other suppressed feelings of rage, impotence, guilt and loneliness, forms the heart of Oren Moverman's drama. Both men struggle with substance abuse, and, against orders, the young sergeant pursues a relationship with a widow (Samantha Morton). 

Despite its traumatic subject matter, the film is more understated than you'd expect: Moverman and the actors show, rather than tell, this story of fighting for emotional equilibrium and humanity against tough odds. Starts Fri., Jan. 22. Manor

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