An extraordinary anti-war film that does not engage in polemics. The Messenger's extreme effectiveness is due to the brilliant acting of the two principal characters played by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.
Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), who demonstrated great courage under fire in Iraq, is sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and given an interim assignment while waiting discharge from the service. He is paired with Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a career Army man. They are assigned to visit fallen soldiers' next of kin to deliver the sad news of the soldier's death.
Tony instructs Will on how it is to be done. They are to read from a script, offering the condolences of the Secretary of the Army, and never to physically touch the next of kin unless the individual appears to be in need of assistance, like having a heart attack, after hearing the news. Their encounters with family members have enormous impact on them and the movie audience.
In one case, Dale Martin (Steve Buscemi), the father of a fallen soldier, can't accept the news and begins to strike Will, the messenger. On another occasion, a mother and a pregnant girlfriend receive the news and engage in withering screams. On a third call, the news is delivered to a young, white woman, Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), whose fallen husband is African American. This encounter leads to a relationship between Samantha and Will. The conversations and arguments between Will and Tony ring true to life and are brilliantly acted.