Woody Harrelson received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Captain Tony Stone in The Messenger.
Woody Harrelson portrays Captain Tony Stone is Will's superior who mentors and works with Will as a casualty notification officer. Harrelson is not one of my favorite actors as he tends to needlessly overact in many of his performances. Luckily this is not the case in this performance, for the most part. Harrelson gives a very intense performance early on as he sets up for the ground rules on how to inform the death of soldiers to their next of kin.
Harrelson is very strong in these early scenes setting up the mood for the film. It is interesting the way he plays Stone's form of conviction in these moments. Harrelson shows that Stone very much understands the importance of his job, and that it must be done right. He shows no humor in these moments being direct and to the point about the whole affair, because in this particular part of life Stone is absolutely will take it with absolute seriousness.
Harrelson manages to show that Stone knows his sense of duty and performs it with the utmost responsibility of a true soldier. Harrelson is truly effective though because of his ability to show that Stone has been at this difficult duty for too long of a time. It is not that it still does not effect him it does as it should, but Harrelson always presents a certain knowledge in Tony that establishes his long history performing his duty.
The best scenes in the film, and the some of the best moments in Harrelson's performance are in the casualty notification scenes. Harrelson and Ben Foster actually say very little in these rather difficult to watch scenes, other than the actual notifications. Harrelson is very good and his reactions are work in perfect contrast to Foster's. Harrelson and Foster are both very effective and only add to the emotional impact of these scenes through their pitch perfect reactions. They both show the soldiers attempting trying the hardest to contain their emotions, but that it is a terrible struggle to do so.
Unfortunately Harrelson is less impressive as the unofficial Tony who acts quite differently when not in uniform perhaps a little too differently. Harrelson starts to do a little too much of his Harrelson routine although not to the extent that it seems like overacting, which he can do in some of his performances, but it does not exactly fit with the Tony Stone seen earlier in the film. Yes it makes sense for Stone to be quite different when not on duty, but Harrelson unfortunately does a little too much of his usual Harrelson thing some of the time, although not all of the time preventing it from being too distracting.
I do believe though Harrelson could have toned down more of some of his mannerisms he usually finds in these scenes and it would have helped his performance be more effective on a whole. Instead most of his scenes are just him doing his old Harrelson thing although certainly toned down most of the time. Except of course for his Oscar scene where he listens Will's description of his war time experiences. Tony breaks down in this scene, and Harrelson did not really completely earn his reaction unfortunately and his whole performance really fails to make the impact it should in the scene. His failings are almost made up by the other half of his performance which does allow this to be a powerful performance, although not a perfect one.