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September 18, 2015
Patrick Swayze displayed crazy-mad pottery-making skills, Bruce Willis got sad that he was dead the whole time, Jack Torrance went a bit crazy, and Kevin Costner inspired baseball fans for miles. Have we not explored all there is with the “Speaking To The Dead” conceit? Andrew Kirk thinks not, and that’s why he scribed the pretty great The Messenger, helmed by (mostly TV) director David Blair.
Robert Sheehan plays Jack, a man believed deranged by his peers and authorities in most part due to the fact that Jack believes that the dead talk to him, in order to give their loved ones closure. Although his middleman messenger role could be seen as noble, involving himself in the lives of the unbelieving bereaved usually ends in a beating and a telephone call to the police.
Jack has an unusually bad week when his estranged sister (Lily Cole) moves into town, forcing him to confront just how broken a man he is as he helps the ‘ghost’ of a murdered high-profile news reporter reveal the truth about his staged suicide.
As a film, The Messenger is very much a one man show. A small ensemble of one-note characters are there to oppose, support or simply bounce expository ideas off Jack in order to move along a narrative, but the main event of the film is the exploration of how the repercussions of unwanted responsibility, mixed with the bog-standard broken childhood, can destroy a man.
Robert Sheehan – whose character in the superhero television show Misfits incidentally could also see dead people – is phenomenal here. Seemingly, it’s not easy to watch young actors play someone with a perennial lack of sobriety without thinking they are overacting but Sheehan does it perfectly, and he’s got the shambled life look down to a tee, too.
Some might argue that Jack might get by a little better when speaking with the recently departed’s loved ones if he had a wash at least once a month and wore something with less of a vagrant air, but the grubby look is in sync with Sheehan’s Jim Caviezel-like jawline and pronounced cheekbones which sell the character’s disturbed life well. It really is unfair that this talented shiner is not a bigger star, A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures notwithstanding, but I digress.
During Jack’s latest “Ghost Goodbyes” case, we’re granted insight into his childhood of familial drama through excessive flashbacks – the only aspect of the film, perhaps along with the decidedly artificial-sounding music score, that is hard to enjoy. Whilst we glean certain insight into just how long Jack has ‘suffered’ from his ability we don’t learn something new with every flash, making some of those feel like padding.
This time could have been better spent on the interestingly handled psychiatric side of things (the wonderful Joely Richardson plays Jack’s therapist), where professionals and peers debate – in between his peripheral involvement in multiple murders – the prospect that Jack’s ‘gift’ is a facade. By the film’s end, viewers will want to believe concretely one way or the other and could, if they wanted, thanks to the clues given, yet Kirk’s script smartly leaves the door open for both ideas.
The Messenger is a pretty grim film though, there’s no leeway on that. Depending on how you view it, it’s either a film about an insane man who cannot be helped or a man whom is deemed insane and won’t be helped. Sheehan plays off-kilter so well that the subject never bores and it certainly could have sustained for the television series that was proposed. Stressful, thoughtful, emotional. Definitely one for Family night.
The Messenger is released in UK cinemas and on VOD from September 18th
Stephen J. Bowron