(On Cable TV, October 2018) As I’ve grown up to become a cranky middle-aged movie reviewer who gets to complain that they don’t make them like they used to, here comes Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to reassure me that while original mid-budget realistic drama movies are on life support, they’re not dead yet. It does help that even within the context of a contemporary adult setting, writer/director Martin McDonagh gets off to a roaring start with a strong premise: a small-town woman putting up three highly critical billboards demanding justice for her murdered daughter. The event sparks dramatic conflict across an ensemble cast of strong actors, reaching across a community to spur characters to action. As befits a film written by a playwright, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an actor’s dream with several strong sequences, well-developed characters and a dark sense of comedy that keeps viewers interested from beginning to end. Frances McDormand now deservedly owns an Oscar for her performance here, but there’s a lot more good material from Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. A strong plot means that the film’s 115 minutes go by in a flash, with a conclusion that provides some comfort but not an entirely wrapped-up happy ending. It’s quite a ride, and I couldn’t be happier to see how Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri leveraged its critical success to become a commercial one as well.
(Video on Demand, June 2013) Writer/director Martin McDonagh clearly isn’t happy doing the usual or the expected: With this crime comedy, he plays around with structure, experiments with form, and uses a comic crime thriller to reflect on the place of violence in movies. Collin Farrell is low-key but effective as a screenwriter who turns to a friend in order to get some inspiration for his next screenplay. Sam Rockwell is quite a bit flashier as said friend who finds himself creatively inspired, and starts bringing the screenwriter into his own criminal enterprise, where we meet an unusually reflective Christopher Walken. It quickly leads to a clash between true psychopaths, repentant ones and unexpected ones. McDonagh’s dialogue is as good as could be expected from a playwright, and his directorial technique feels a bit more natural than in his previous In Bruges. Seven Psychopaths takes a turn toward meta-fiction in the third act, as it tries to reconcile the impulses of thrill-seeking viewers with the humanistic instincts of a filmmaker trying to avoid gratuitous violence. While the result feels a bit more scattered than it should, it’s an unusually intriguing film, and one that has quite a bit more thematic depths than the usual crime thriller. As a bonus, it’s also quite funny… except when it decides not to be.