That's "The Messenger," another powerful but extremely unpleasant film that opens today, in time for the holiday season.
Versatility has long been a Harrelson long suit, from nearly 200 episodes of "Cheers" to movies as different as "White Men Can't Jump," "The Thin Red Line," "Wag the Dog" and "No Country for Old Men."
He's Capt. Tony Stone here, paired with Ben Cooper as Sgt. Will Montgomery, back from Iraq and carrying shrapnel. Their orders are firm. Don't talk to anyone but next of kin. Don't discuss a cause of death. Don't show emotion. Don't say you're sorry for the loss. Tell them someone will call in a few days. Leave.
This is difficult work, though they don't absorb as much pain as they inflict. But they face the pain, and the tears, and the anger (a short but brilliant moment from Steve Buscemi), and the stunned silences, and Harrelson and Cooper turn in amazing performances for Oren Moverman, a first-time director who wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Alessandro Camon. Moverman, by the way, is a former Israeli Army officer.
But Cooper strays from the Army's game plan, letting his feelings down with Olivia Pitterson, a lovely, realistic portrayal by Samantha Morton. Cooper does not turn to the bottle like Harrelson, a recovering alcoholic always a moment or two from relapse; he returned home from war to discover his girl friend had taken up with someone else.
As powerful as "The Messenger" is, with an honest and straightforward ending, it sags in the middle as the pressure turns Harrelson and Cooper into more ordinary men, with the ordinary problems and futile search for solutions we all have to deal with.
Opens today at Plaza Frontenac.