Woody Harrelson discovers the good in soldiering

BERLIN Mon Feb 9, 2009 12:15pm EST

1 of 5. Actor Woody Harrelson poses during a photocall to promote the movie 'The Messenger' at the 59th Berlinale film festival in Berlin, February 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - American actor Woody Harrelson, long an outspoken peace activist, said on Monday making a film about the work of U.S. army casualty notification officers had given him new insight and respect for soldiers in Iraq.

After director Oren Moverman's "The Messenger" made its international debut at the Berlin Film Festival, Harrelson said he acquired a deep admiration for the soldiers in Iraq as well as those assigned to inform next of kin about killed soldiers.

"I'd rather call this a 'pro-peace' film," Harrelson said when asked if the gripping portrayal of the officers who face weeping widows, angry parents and shocked children when they personally deliver the heartbreaking news.

"I've been an outspoken peace activist for good reason. But what was missing from my own philosophy was a real understanding of what these soldiers go through. The time we spent with them working on the film left me with profound respect and compassion for these people who are going to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They're putting their lives on the line because they believe they're trying to help and doing something for their country. However you feel about the war, I have a lot of respect for these soldiers. I hope this film gives the warriors the light they deserve."

The film features Harrelson and Ben Foster as two soldiers assigned to the harrowing task of informing next of kin.

Aside from the tears in almost every living room or doorstep, they are screamed at or even spat on by enraged parents. The film by Moverman, who spent four years in the Israeli military, shines a spotlight time on bearers of bad news.

"There's a lot of pride in the army about this procedure," said Moverman, adding the army provided technical support and backing for the film. "They see it as an honorable thing, and something that most people don't know about, including soldiers.

"It is the toughest job in the army, it's an emotional landscape they're not trained for," he added. More than 4,200 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

The half-dozen scenes of Harrelson and Foster bringing the bad news to next of kin had the difficult-to-please Berlinale audience mesmerized and more than a few in tears. There was heartfelt applause after the screening and at a news conference.

"It's a representation of the consequences of going to war," said Moverman, who noted critically the United States had at one point banned media cover of flag-draped coffins heading home.

"It's not about strategies of where the United States should be and it's not about foreign policy," he said when asked if it was an anti-war film. "It's once you go to war, there are consequences. We're hoping it's a humanist message."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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