Movie review: Three Billboards Outiside Ebbing, Missouri

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the big Golden Globe’s winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

IMDb summary: A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (amazing title, tbh) was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, known for such films as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He handled both jobs extremely well.

Writing

McDonagh was inspired to write this movie by actual billboards about a crime that he has seen while traveling somewhere in the southeast of the US. Before seeing this film, I knew its premise (and thought it was super unique) but I had no idea where the narrative would go. I’m happy to report that McDonagh took this story in an unexpected and as unique as its premise direction.

Three Billboards was a story of three characters (3 billboards, 3 leads), and, through these characters’ arcs, the movie was able to explore a plethora of themes. This picture was, in my mind, more of an exploration of these three characters rather than a crime drama with them in it.

To begin with, the writing for the grieving mother was just spectacular. It was refreshing to see a character allowed to grieve openly and express her anger (it a small step from pain to anger) rather than bottling it up (our society likes us to grieve in private and be done quickly so that we could rejoin society as productive members as soon as possible). The way the film visualized pain – by focusing it on the billboards – was also super interesting. The whole interplay/juxtaposition between typically emotionless corporate advertising spaces (a.k.a. the billboards) and highly emotional plea of a grieving mother was fascinating. Also, the film did a good job of showing the extremism of Mildred (the mother) but also of making her actions understandable – the balance was just right. The flashbacks, showing the mother’s and daughter’s last moments together, also added so much depth to the story.

The second lead – the unfit police officer – was the most unexpected character for me. He began the film as an openly racist and homophobic cop – just an awful human being, but also, simultaneously, a sad little person. However, the script then added some little extraordinary details that intrigued me, like his enjoyment of comic books, ABBA, and classical music. I could not reconcile his worldview and his hobbies in my mind. Also, I expected the movie to sideline him or just use the character to build the atmosphere, but Dixon (that’s his name) actually became the main player as a story unraveled and experienced real growth. While I don’t think I agree that he had the makings of a good cop, he definitely had the capacity to become a decent person (through experience and education). In addition, Three Billboards’ writing was clever about humanizing the character without being too emphatic – found that perfect balance again.

The third lead, the town’s sheriff, was the character the easiest to sympathize with as he was portrayed as being stuck in an impossible position, mediating between a grieving mother and an unfit police force. This type of a police vs, citizen confrontation hasn’t been seen much in pictures recently, mostly because the majority of police and citizen relations have been explored through the perspective of race. Anyways, the town’s sheriff actually seemed like a good person, who cared about his job and his family. His personal arc, relating to his illness, was an unexpected but realistic inclusion, that added some layers to his character.

Three Billboards also presented an interesting dichotomy between the society and the individual: the town’s reaction to the billboards and the prejudice against Mildred and the siding with the police force were both shocking to me and didn’t paint the best picture of the middle America that is already pretty bad after the recent election (which isn’t that recent).

Lastly, the picture had a highly unexpected ending in the team-up of the mother and the police officer. Their final decision – taking justice into their owns hands without substantial proof  – was not easy to agree with. And yet, the fact that their target was spewing such horrible things at the bar and was in the military (which is supposed to consists of people working for the good of society rather than be an example of the worst of it) kinda made me understand Mildred’s and Dixon’s decision. And even though, their final resolution, as well as the previous actions of a mother, might not be the healthiest or the most societally acceptable example of how to deal with grief, it is a potential example, nonetheless. Hey, whatever works, I guess?

Directing

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, while impeccably written, was also well directed. The pacing was great – the movie was intense and emotional all throughout. The cinematography was wonderful too – the visual set-up (opening the movie with the imagery of the billboards) was highly effective and straight to the point. The mobile frame and the handheld camera throughout the rest of the film added that feeling of realism that indie movies have. The whole atmosphere of the movie was also a bit Coen-esque (more Coen-y than the Coen brothers’ own film from last year – Suburbicon). A couple of my favorite scenes in the picture (mostly because they were unexpected) were Mildred’s confrontation with the priest (if you want to find out more about her accusations, watch Spotlight – an Oscar winner from 2 years ago) and her scene with the dentist (that one was especially shocking but of the good kind of shock value).

 

Acting

  • Frances McDormand was truly brilliant as Mildred Hayes. I believe that her performance here was as good as the one in Fargo, for which she won an Oscar, and I’m hoping that she will get another Academy Award this year.
  • Woody Harrelson (Triple 9The Hunger GamesNow You See Me, The Glass Castle, War For The Planet Of The Apes) was also really good as Sheriff Bill Willoughby. His performance was short (ended quite suddenly) but one of the best of his that I’ve seen (then again, he is always good even if the movie itself is lacking).
  • Sam Rockwell delivered his greatest performance as Officer Jason Dixon – he made that character seem like a real person rather than a caricature. I’m so glad that Rockwell is finally getting the recognition he deserves – he definitely should have gotten more awards nominations in the past, especially for 2009’s Moon.
  • On the supporting front, Peter Dinklage had a cameo role and it was a bit weird seeing him here – he and Tyrion Lannister have become one in my mind (playing such an iconic character is both a blessing and a curse). A few actors from other awards nominees’ also had roles here, including Lucas Hedges (was nominated for Manchester by the Sea last year and played a similar role in this film – that of a grieving teenager; he is also in Ladybird – another huge contender this awards season) and Caleb Landry Jones (who appeared in Get Out – the most mainstream film this awards season).

 

In short, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a perfectly balanced and powerful drama about grief, pain, and anger that was brought to life by 3 amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri trailer

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5 ideas about a movie Hail, Caesar! + The Coen Brothers

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since the BvS hysteria has died down and the next superhero craze hasn’t started yet, let’s review a movie that I’m 3 months late to review – Hail, Caesar! by The Coen brothers. In my defense, UK was probably the last place that this movie was released in. However,  I do acknowledge the fact that, although I saw this movie probably 2  months ago, I couldn’t find time to discuss it. Well, better late than never, so without further ado, let’s talk about The Coen brothers themselves and their newest creation – Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers

I would argue that The Coen brothers deserve to be called the modern auteurs of contemporary filmmaking for they distinct style and accomplishments in cinematic storytelling. They are able to take the core archetypes – the premises for either tragic or comedic stories – and make something spectacular and unique out of it. To give a few examples of this, I will briefly discuss their most well-known comedy The Big Lebowski, their most famous tragedy No Country For Old Men and their wonderful combination of these two polar opposites – Fargo.

The Big Lebowski: the kooky and quirky comedy that gave a start to a whole new religion. One of the weirdest films that I have ever watched, yet it still very clear and extremely funny. The story is kinda ridiculous (happens by accident and is a misunderstanding) but the film somehow makes sense in the end.

No Country For Old Men: a slow and suspenseful masterpiece, filmed in wide shots. Aurally haunting because of the lack of score. A great character study in a cohesive style of The Coens but, at the same time, very extraordinary and different.

Fargo: another example of the great usage of the wide and long shots. The film has a lot of  old school ‘fade to black’ transitions and uses the music really well. The mise-en-scene is full of white ‘any-space-whatevers’, as described by Deleuze. And, of course, all the ‘yah’ lines in that Minnesota dialect are iconic. Fargo is probably my favorite film by The Coen brothers.

Other films that The Coen brothers either fully made or only partially contributed to that I have seen are: Inside Llewyn Davis –  very personal story of a musician. This movie introduced me to Oscar Isaac for the very first time. The Coens also worked on Bridge of Spies’s and Unbroken’s scripts. Both of these films are very enjoyable.

Although, I have seen quite a few films made by The Coen duo, but I want to watch a lot more, especially Raising Arizona, Burn After ReadingA Serious Man, Miller’s Crossing, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and True Grit.

Now, let me tell you 5 things about Hail, Caesar!

IMDb summary: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.

  1. To begin with Hail, Caesar! was The Coen brothers’ love letter to old Hollywood. While watching this film, I was taken back to the Golden Age of Hollywood and got a chance to directly witness the behind-the-scenes inner workings of the movie business. Other films about the creation of motion pictures, which you might want to check out if you are interested, are the old school Singin’ in the Rain and the newer ones like Trumbo, Hugo and even Argo.
  2. The actual story of Hail, Caesar! was quite hectic and overwhelming. Some scenes seemed to come out of nowhere, but I guess that just showed how unpredictable the movie business was/is. I really liked the 24h time frame of the plot as well as the fact that we got to see all the aspect of filmmaking: the pre-production, the principal photography and the post-production. The constant narration also did not irritate me. However, a few of the jokes seemed to be quite painfully awkward, at least to me.
  3. Hail, Caesar! explored themes like the manipulation of people, the power of the public image and the importance of movies. It also looked at the business vs. creativity dichotomy of the film industry. The picture also had a lot of religious undertones and Christian imagery. Overall, the picture was a great synthesis of the traditional and the modern.
  4. Hail, Caesar! tied itself to reality/history with that communist screenwriters plot-line, which I did not enjoy that much. It just seemed like the easiest route to go to for the movie that is set during the Cold War. I wish that the end-game of the film would have been different, because I have seen enough movies (from all genres) that have already explored the East vs. West divide of the 20th century and did that in a more compelling way.
  5. Hail, Caesar! had a huge an accomplished cast, but, sadly, this film seemed like a paycheck gig for the majority of the actors. I feel awful for saying this, because this is The Coen brothers’ movie after all. Josh Brolin (Everest, Sicario, Marvel), a long-time collaborator of The Coens, led the cast and did a nice job. George Clooney (Tomorrowland), another favorite of The Coens, seemed to be playing himself (at least that version of him that the media has created). The relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich played quite a stereotypical character, but he managed to subvert that stereotype. Ralph Fiennes (Spectre), Jonah Hill (Jump Street films), Scarlett Johansson (Marvel, Chef), Fargo’s Frances McDormand as well as Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) also had minor but very theatrical roles.  Lastly, Channing Tatum (Jump Street, Magic Mike and Step Up films) rounded up the cast. His musical number reminded me a lot of Frank Sinatra’s and Gene Kelly’s performance in 1945’s Anchors Aweigh.

In short, Hail, Caesar! was not the best The Coen brothers’ film, but it was still enjoyable and pleasant. A solid B picture.

Rate: 3.9/5

Trailer: Hail, Caesar! trailer

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