SARASOTA — It's the side of war that only the duty bound know, between lives ending and the beginning of grief.
Soldiers die, and someone must inform the survivors.
Lt. Col. Paul Sinor has knocked on those doors, and ordered hundreds of soldiers to do the same, leading the Pentagon office for informing loved ones that soldiers were killed in action. Later, Sinor became a military liaison for film and television projects, lending authenticity to such projects as both Transformers movies, I Am Legend and Delta Farce.
Friday night at the Sarasota Film Festival, Sinor's dissimilar assignments converged, on his final night in the U.S. Army.
Sinor's last detail was introducing Oren Moverman's movie The Messenger to a near-capacity crowd at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The officer served as technical adviser for the film from first rewrite of the screenplay to the opening night festival showcase. He also contacted active and reserve troops across Florida, inviting them to view a film about something likely to happen.
"In the grand scheme of things, soldiers sitting there either have or will at some time in their career be a messenger," Sinor said before the show. "They will have to do that duty. To see a feature film like this, that honors that service, is great for the military."
The Messenger stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster as Iraq War veterans assigned stateside to deliver tragic news. One soldier doesn't cope easily with the strain, the other develops a close relationship with a new widow, played by Samantha Morton.
Sinor doesn't believe such a story has been told on screen before.
"In every movie you've seen that has a death notification, the door closes and you follow the father, mother, wife, whoever, to see how it affects them. This one shows what happens on both sides of the door, how it impacts the soldiers as well," he said.
On the red carpet entering Van Wezel, Harrelson expressed his pleasure with having dozens of active duty and retired military people in the audience.
"I can't understate the importance of having these guys here," the actor said. "This movie was done as much for them as anyone. I know when Oren and Alessandro (Camon) were writing it, (the troops) were very much in their thoughts. To me, seeing their reaction is big."
Judging from the audience's response, the film's Florida debut was a mission accomplished. Blending foxhole humor with sobering scenes of wartime remembrances, the movie impressed Lt. Col. Mike Worth of Fort Dix, N.J.
Worth made the trip to Sarasota after the unit he commands assisted with filming during five days last May. Prior to that, he spent three years in that Pentagon agency where Sinor served.
"I've never done a notification," Worth said. "But they captured it accurately. I'm personally familiar with examples of everything I saw in the movie."
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.