Staying out of an actor’s way is a considerable directorial skill, and one that Oren Moverman exhibits with assurance throughout The Messenger, the tale of a decorated Iraqi war hero named Will (Ben Foster) who, upon returning to the States, is assigned to spend his last three months of active duty alongside old pro Tony (Woody Harrelson) notifying families of their enlisted relatives’ deaths. Aside from his use of heavy metal to further suggest Will’s roiling inner state, Moverman uses an impressive amount of restraint in dramatizing his scenario, which finds Will and Tony slowly forming a bond – and, in the process, finding a means of expressing their twisted feelings of guilt, shame, grief and longing – while carrying out their arduous task. That Will eventually falls for, and tentatively attempts to woo, a single mother named Olivia (Samantha Morton) who’s notified by the duo of her husband’s death does, initially, reek of screenwriting contrivance. Yet Moverman’s scripting is subdued and emotionally authentic, and Foster and Morton – especially in a kitchen-set conversation, shot in one unbroken take, that finds both performers nimbly modulating, and vacillating between, conflicting emotions – prove more than capable of keeping the narrative strand honest. Harrelson too takes what originally seems a caricatured role (hardass warhorse breaking in the new guy) and makes him believably multifaceted, a man whose professional regret, personal demons, and miserable military responsibility (enduring the tears and blows of grieving parents and wives) have conspired to leave him a cracked, if not wholly broken, man. The Messenger conveys the lingering damage wrought by conflict but, more than that, a universal need for stability and comfort, and if its ending carries with it a whiff of Hollywood hopefulness, it’s a mood that, following on the heels of its humanist portrait of suffering and surviving, nonetheless seems well-earned.