What’s the worst job in the world? Lindsay Lohan’s publicist? Rand Paul’s press secretary? Any job that involves being around Sarah Palin? I don’t really know what is the worst, but all kidding aside, notifying next of kin that their son or daughter or husband or wife has been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan has to be in the Top 10. They used to send out telegrams: “The Secretary of War regrets to inform you …” There was a pretty good movie called The Human Comedy where Mickey Rooney played a Western Union messenger boy. Ordinary people didn’t get many telegrams in the 1940s. If you saw him bicycling up to your door and you had a boy in uniform, you had a pretty good idea what the news was going to be. I remember thinking this had to be one of the worst jobs in the world.
Since Vietnam we have notified NOKs (Next of Kin) in person. I assume the title of this film comes from the saying “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Nobody blamed the Western Union boy, but some of these people would really like to shoot these messengers. (Steve Buscemi plays one of them, heart-wrenchingly.) There they stand in their crisp uniforms, representing the very government that their loved one died for—and in the minds of many, including me, died for no good reason other than Dick Cheney’s grandiose plan to control all the oil in the Middle East—and they lash out. The messengers can get spit upon, shouted at, cursed, maybe even hit, and they have to stand there and take it. What else can they do? Others deny it, don’t want to hear it, clap their hands over their ears, others go a little insane. We see about half a dozen of these scenes, and they are very hard to watch. Very hard, in the sense that I cried through every one of them. But you have to watch, don’t you? At least, I felt that I had to.
The back stories of the two men with this awful duty are compelling, too, and the movie ends on at least a small note of hope and healing. Woody Harrelson … who would have guessed that he’d turn out to be as good as he has become? He got an Oscar nomination, and deserved it. His younger companion, Ben Foster, is also very good. He plays a scene in one very long shot with Samantha Morton (who we have loved since In America) that is just perfectly written and acted. See this one, even if you don’t really want to.