*NEW* THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI REVIEW *NEW*

Three sterling turns and an Oscar hopefully.

A mother (Frances McDormand) personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

A brooding country noir riddled with black comedy. If it wasn’t for all the profanity, you could have said it was a Fargo sequel.

Bold, brash and a little long in the tooth BUT a damn good watch all the same.

Funny how three billboards can cause so much trouble? Originally aimed at the local sheriff William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), one woman’s crusade for justice causes a stir among the community.

Frances McDormand is a brilliant actress. I knew exactly what she would bring to the table. That bitter Olive Kitteridge grit. Sharp tongued, outspoken, on the war path and not giving a damn who knows it. A powerhouse performance.

She stole every scene. You really felt for her. Her frosty reception with the town priest and her discussion on the definition of the word ‘culpable’ was worth an Oscar nod alone.

All aided by a sterling script, of course. Penned by none other than the In Bruges (Highly recommended) writer/director Martin McDonagh.

The fiery quick witted dialogue delivered that sinister comical edge as Mildred dealt with all sorts of unsavoury characters as the townspeople soon let their feelings known on the billboards. An awkward trip to the dentist made for tense viewing.

The pacing did test in places. Originally I felt the film slackened when McDormand wasn’t involved in the mix. A compliment to her performance. BUT it also allowed for some sterling turns from a highly talented supporting cast.

Woody Harrelson was excellent in the understated role of Willoughby. A man desperate to keep the peace BUT plagued by his own demons and the system he had sworn to protect. A tragic hero if ever there was one. A performance full of nuance that knocked me for six. Proof that the Cheers star can act.

I wanted more exchanges between the struggling sheriff and the militant Mildred. Despite her anger with the law, there was still respect between them.

Caleb Landry Jones (Get Out) played the simple ad clerk Red Welby brilliantly. His run-ins with Mildred delivered several humourous encounters. Ol’ Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was wasted in his small role (No pun intended). He did his best BUT then again, this wasn’t his story.

I hope Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) isn’t going to be typecast in the grieving son role. He worked well with McDormand and I liked the fractured mother/son relationship. It was just a shame that he was pushed into the background. Especially after a heated “family reunion” with his deadbeat dad.

The uneven middle act left me wondering where this was all going. The tone jumped from moments of violent, foul mouthed mayhem to ones of tearful reflection and sorrow. BUT as much as I was getting frustrated, I still wanted to seek out the end game.

The always underrated Sam Rockwell nearly stole the show from McDormand. His character Deputy Dixon was a particular highlight. I loved the journey that this dimwitted racist country mama’s boy went through. A rollercoaster ride if ever there was one. I hated him, I laughed at him, laughed with him and by the end, I felt sorry for the poor schmuck.

The second half of the film took a much more sombre turn than I expected. Especially when we delved a little more into Mildred’s and Willoughby’s background. It turned an incredibly witty black comedy into so much more as everything came to a thrilling and heart rending climax.

The final act and the bittersweet ending spoke volumes as it tackled grief, anger, hate BUT most importantly forgiveness. It didn’t quite deliver what I expected BUT I was left smiling after experiencing this redemptive journey with Mildred and Dixon, in particular.

Something I haven’t felt with any film in a while.

Try not to buy into the awards hype too much and approach the film for what it is. A brilliantly acted and darkly comical tale of anger, grief and redemption.

3.5/5

*NEW* MANCHESTER BY THE SEA REVIEW *NEW*

manchester_by_the_sea

A wonderfully acted emotionally packed drama.

An uncle (Casey Affleck) is asked to take care of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) after the boy’s father (Kyle Chandler) dies.

It’s always a pleasure when a film can surpass your expectations and reward you with something so much more.

It was funny that I was complaining about the La La Land hype with this entry coming in a swift second on the overbearing hype train.

BUT I have to say, this was brilliant.

Casey Affleck has always played strange roles from introverted wackos to isolated loners. This role was perfect for him. He made the socially awkward Lee work a treat.

The slow burning style allowed the drama to unfold perfectly.

We followed Lee as he trundled along his humdrum lifestyle of a janitor at an apartment building. The mundane tasks, the strange tenants, the complaining and weird requests. A ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

The news of his brother’s passing triggering flashbacks. Flicking back and forth between the past and present as we got a better understanding of Lee and the reasons behind his fractious relationship with his nephew.

Baffled to be awarded guardianship after all that had happened. I hadn’t read anything about this film and the revelations with Lee’s past completely surprised me. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

Lonergan has written a heartfelt story that dealt with grief on such levels. It was almost real.

The awkward exchanges as Lee had to deal with depressing funeral arrangements, idle chit chat and various reactions from people as they learnt of his brother’s passing. It couldn’t be more in tune.

It is a huge gamble to make a 2 and a half hour movie that relies solely on two leads. BUT I don’t think it would worked without Hedges and Affleck. They were brilliant.

The power of a performance that can deliver such emotion that you get caught up in it. There were several scenes that actually got to me. I felt for all of them. Affleck deserved that BAFTA.

It was surprisingly funny, upsetting and dark. I went through a rollercoaster of emotions as did our protagonist. Struggling to communicate with an awkward teenager who was more concerned about his social lifestyle than his father’s death.

The tension bubbling away as Lee, a creature of comforts, seemed desperate to get back to his quiet life. Of course, he had his reasons.

A scene involving frozen meat triggered an unexpected breakdown out of the blue with the pair finally coming to terms with their feelings. I laughed, I cried. Superb.

I remembered Lonergan’s last effort Margaret being one for a testing pace and I know a lot of people grumbled about the pace of this one. BUT I can’t even say this dragged. I was completely engrossed with the characters and the drama. I wanted more.

The supporting cast played their parts perfectly. Michelle Williams wasn’t in this enough. From all the hype, I expected her to be in this for a good portion of the film. Her screen time probably only accumulated to 15/20 minutes?

BUT she was excellent as Lee’s ex-wife. Their reunion was heartbreaking as we realised that Lee was a man tormented by his own demons long before the news of his estranged brother’s death.

Always happy to see Mr Friday Night Lights Kyle Chandler get more screen time as Lee’s brother. Gretchen Mol (Boardwalk Empire) delivered as his volatile widow and I didn’t expect to see Matthew Broderick pop up in this?

Despite my praise, I still had my grumbles. I’m not sure whether it was the cinema surround sound BUT I found Lesley Barber’s music score overbearing. It didn’t take away the emotional impact of the scene BUT I found myself getting increasingly irritated.

It felt like someone was playing with the volume (Maybe they were. I did watch it in forum).

It was only the final act that disappointed me. And that was because it didn’t go in the direction I wanted. Forever a cynical optimist (Yeah, work that one out). Hoping for a happily ever after for the troubled pair.

BUT as the credits rolled (and a little more discussion after), I couldn’t see any other way that the story could end. It worked.

I went expecting in nothing and came out rewarded with a brilliantly acted and well written drama that dealt with grief on many levels.

It is a little gloomy BUT if you’re in the mood for a drama that delivers on the feels, look no further.

4/5