‘Messenger’ kicks off film fest

Bradenton Herald – The Sarasota Film Festival kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall with Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger.” The film stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster as U.S. Army officers serving with the Casualty Notification Office. Their job is to notify families of the death of their loved ones during the war in Iraq.

It is a film that will provide a moving emotional experience, said Moverman, a screenwriter. The film marks his directorial debut.

About 400 serviceman from MacDill Airforce Base have been invited to screen the opening night. Moverman, Harrelson and Foster will also be in attendance.

The idea behind “The Messenger” sprung from a conversation about war and politics between the Israeli-born Moverman and co-writer Alessandro Camon, of Italy.

Thinking outside the box, Camon thought it would be interesting to write a movie about casualty notification officers. Moverman thought it was brilliant.

“It seems like a no-brainer when you think about it,” he said during a phone interview from New York. “But actually, it’s never been done as an entire feature film. We all know those scenes in movies — war movies especially: Soldiers come to the door and knock on the door, but we always see it from the families’ point of view. This was an attempt to examine it from the soldiers’ point of view.”

The film explores the friendship between casualty officers Will (Foster) and Tony (Harrelson). It also follows the budding relationship between Will and a war widow.

There were several actors interested in being involved with the project but Foster and Harrelson stood out as obvious choices for the roles, said Moverman.

“I think Ben is very much a man,” Moverman said of the characteristics Foster brings to life in the introverted Will. “You can actually see an interior world on his face. He’s someone you believe has gone through things, has experienced things and has taken them in. And that’s really pretty much the character. I think he’s a sublime actor in different kinds of ways, but here he just needed to be very quite and contained.”

As for Tony, Harrelson’s character is like comparing night to day in regard to Will. Tony talks non-stop, said Moverman.

“He is someone who is blocking out a lot of emotion and covers it up with a lot of talking,” he said. “But it’s quite humorous. There’s no one like Woody Harrelson for those kinds of roles. He brings the intensity, but also the humor to a character.”

A good script and talented cast and crew put Moverman at ease during his first time as director, he said.

The film, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year and also screened in Berlin, has been well-received as it tours the festival circuit.

“It’s a movie that, once you get to experience it, you let yourself become emotional because it’s so raw in many ways,” Moverman said. Much of that emotion might lie in the heartache the families experience as the officers deliver the bad news. The connection of losing a loved one is something that can be felt beyond military life, Moverman said.

“Unfortunately, we all get notified one way or another that someone we love has passed,” he said. “It’s never an easy process to go through.”

After the film is screened in Sarasota, Moverman will work on plans to release it in theaters nationwide.

“The actual festival seems very exciting,” he said. “I checked out the programming and I was really impressed. Not just because we’re coming, but actually, there are a lot of movies that I would love to see.”

posted March 26, 2009

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