From the very beginning of David Blair’s latest endeavour The Messenger, a sense of ambiguity lingers over proceedings, as the viewer is thrown into this surrealistic narrative only to the fend for themselves, and to make their own conclusions. What transpires is a somewhat disorientating experience, but one you slowly grow into it, and despite any initial apprehensions, by the close of play it’s difficult to have not become immersed, and emotionally attached to this absorbing tale.
Robert Sheehan plays Jack, an introverted recluse, who spends his days conversing with the dead. He is a messenger, and when people have been killed, he then passes on any final remarks to their loved ones, from beyond the grave. Though granted this special gift, it soon begins to drive him crazy, which, coincidently, is exactly what everybody around Jack – including his sister Emma (Lily Cole) believes him to be, with both the police and doctors keen on sectioning the youngster. This is the case when he becomes embroiled in a high-profile murder case, as he vies to pass on the final goodbye from the deceased journalist Mark (Jack Fox) to his bereaving widow, and TV personality Emma (Tamzin Merchant).
In a similar vein to Blair’s recent production Best Laid Plans, the filmmaker has implemented a surrealism into an otherwise naturalistic picture, bringing a supernatural edge to a film that could be labelled as a kitchen sink drama. The approach taken is certainly more akin to the latter, with a bleak, almost Shane Meadows-esque approach to British culture. Though the line between what we perceive to be real and what’s in Jack’s mind is a blurry one. Having an entry point into this world as somebody accused of having a split personality makes for a volatile experience, as we never know what, or who to believe.
Sheehan does a fine job embodying this character, which is of great commendation to an actor renowned primarily for his inherent charisma and comic ability. However he remains empathetic, and you wholeheartedly abide by his reticent demeanour. He’s not exactly the first person that would come to mind when casting a role of an isolated, downtrodden man who roams the streets in an oversized coat talking to themselves.
The Messenger is undoubtedly a flawed piece, and the opening act has the potential to lose you as it can be a struggle to engage with, in no way helped along by the lack of quality amongst the ranks, with a handful of lacklustre supporting performances. But it’s unique, and something of an ingenious approach to grief and mental illness, and for that reason alone this picture is worth sticking with through to the very end. It does get better, honest.