David Blair‘s supernatural-drama The Messenger touches on some intriguing ideas, but refuses to commit to any of them. This is a watch that fails to engage – a result of its drifting narrative and shoddy characterisation.
Robert Sheehan stars as Jack, a young man plagued by his ability to communicate with the dead. When a murdered reporter asks Jack to pass on a message to his widow, the ghost whisperer gets drawn into complicated waters.
There’s plenty of ground to cover in the “talking to the dead” angle but Andrew Kirk’s narrative limits this to one case: slain reporter Mark (Jack Fox) and his widow Sarah (Tamzin Merchant). Jack reluctantly accepts the role of passing on a final message to Sarah, but in doing so uncovers an alternative motive in the murder. Kirk’s screenplay dips in and out of this narrative, blending it with jarring flashbacks of Jack’s early life and his current relationship with his sister (Lily Cole). There’s a lack of mystery regarding this twist as its given away early on – and The Messenger never commits to providing any genuine intrigue, let alone a resolution. Other strands like Jack’s nephew potentially sharing his uncle’s supernatural ability, haunted houses, Jack almost being arrested, are introduced an almost instantaneously dropped.
It’s a struggle to invest in both the half-baked murder mystery narrative and Jack’s personal life, which feel equally unaffecting. Garish flashbacks centring on young Jack’s life – complete with deceased father and his cruel unloving mother – lack the emotional depth they require and feel like simple narrative contrivances to evoke some sympathy. These, however, do provide some indication as to why Jack is the ‘damaged’ way he is now.
Sheehan normally makes for a charismatic screen presence but the role of Jack squanders the young actor’s talents. There are sparks of empathy and engagement that shimmer through in Sheehan’s performance, but Jack is such an unlikeable protagonist that makes it hard to feel more than just the occasional pang of emotion. The booze-chugging, pill-popping unrelenting sense of self-sympathy, paired with Jack’s dour wisecracks and ungainly demeanour means that he’s a character we cannot empathise with or appreciate, despite the actor’s best attempts. The ever-excellent Joely Richardson appears for a number of small scenes as Jack’s therapist and lends a weighty gravitas to the otherwise flimsy proceedings. In terms of aesthetic impact, The Messenger fails to provide any spark – opting for drab interiors and darkly lit exteriors which makes for a forgettable canvas for this unremarkable tale to unfold upon.