Wednesday, January 20, 2010

DON'T SHOOT -- OR SLAP, OR SPIT ON -- THE MESSENGER

This afternoon as I watched The Messenger, I had the strangest sense of deja vu. Hadn't I seen this somewhere before? (And that is not to take anything away from the movie, which is fabulous.) I saw The Hurt Locker a few days ago, so maybe it was the war connection, I thought. But it was more than that.

Then it dawned on me. The Messenger is Up in the Air down to earth, with a different cast. Up in the Air is about an old pro (George Clooney) and his young charge (Anna Kendrick) whose job it is to tell people that they are being fired by their employers. Meanwhile, The Messenger is about an old pro (Woody Harrelson, sexy, beastly and looking closer to 30 than 50) and his young charge (Ben Foster, above, admirably low key and in need of a nice, long hug) whose job it is to tell people that their loved ones have been killed in combat. There's even an awkward rehearsal dinner scene vaguely reminiscent of the wedding bit in Up in the Air.

In the central storylines of both films, the oldsters urge the neophytes to remain as detached as possible. Don't get emotionally -- or, in The Messenger, physically -- involved. It's only a job. Of course, that's easier said than done, and the youngsters in both films begin to crack under pressure and find themselves doing exactly what they are urged not to do.

And who wouldn't? Let's face it, we are not robots. There is no right way or wrong way to tell someone that they've lost a job or a loved one. You just tell them as best you can and let the chips fall where they may. Some, like Samantha Morton in The Messenger, will put on a brave face and be in no apparent need of immediate comforting. Others, like pretty much everyone else in both movies, will react in extreme, unexpected ways.

What to do when they slap you (as one woman does to Woody Harrelson's Captain Tony Stone) or spit on you (as Steve Buscemi does to Ben Foster's Sergeant Will Montgomery)? Never, under any circumstances, should you touch them, Captain Stone instructs. The docs on Grey's Anatomy and other fictional bearers of bad news might agree. Me, I'm not sure who benefits from such stoic detachment.

But this I do know: War may be hell (on the homefront, too), but if Steve Buscemi ever spit in my face, I'd for sure rearrange his.
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