Friday, October 30, 2009

The Messenger

It was Sophie’s Choice at Thursday night’s closing of The Impact Film Festival, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization created as a platform for  documentary and narrative filmmaking. Having to choose between the simultaneous screenings of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers and The Messenger starring Woody Harrelson was a challenging call.

Ellsberg was the surprise high level Pentagon defector on Vietnam whose massive  pages concluded the war was based on lies.  After having leaked some 7,000 pages to The New York Times, it generated headlines around the world.  Watergate, Nixon’s resignation and the end of the Vietnam war followed; a must for anyone too young to remember.

The Messenger, starring Woody Harrelson, played across town at the E Street Cinema to a capacity audience.  It’s a powerful story of two men assigned to the Army's Casualty Notification service who display themselves outwardly as steely heroes while revealing their inner fragility with compassion and dignity. Ben Foster (an Ed norton look a like) and Harrelson may be set for Oscar nominations in this portrait of grief, friendship and survival.  

Some odd questions at the Q & A  moderated by Lois Romano.  Seemed like we weren’t at the same screening when she asked why Montgomery’s character didn’t get the girl. Huh? This was clarified later at the after party at Posh where the director Oren Moverman responded in kind: “Well yes, he did”.  As regards a kitchen scene she wondered why the twosome didn’t have sex, huh?  The sexual attraction was intense but why they didn’t was rather obvious. As Moverman put it: “I hope I handled that well.”  He did.  After a brief interaction with guests, he moved in with Hunter Biden’s circle of friends with periodic accessibility.

“Forget the politics. Seeing this film as a film is a must. It is a superb directorial debut that builds an ensemble display of acting that takes your breath away. The nine minutes in the kitchen scene is worthy of adding to your pantheon of cinema bests. Tight shots, in your face, human sadness and, best of all ...reality, ” said Richard Rymland.  And, he should know, he is married to film producer Catherine Wyler (yes, that Wyler).

The whole experience was like walking into other peoples lives; in these cases, you would never want to.

Harrelson, a devoted peace activist, was a curious choice for the part.  “I had to get into a psychological space I had never been in before. I may not agree with the war, but I have compassion for the warriors.”

Above photo: Woody Harrelson and Jonathan Capehart.  Photo credit: Janet Donovan