Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

After watching Martin McDonagh’s latest film, you are sure of one thing: You have just witnessed a masterpiece

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Frances McDormand incarnates Mildred Hayes, rightfully vengeful but so much more than that, as she takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of her teenage daughter Angela’s unresolved rape and murder. By renting three rusty billboards on a generally empty roadside, which bluntly and plainly address Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) as to why seven months on, there are still no arrests and seemingly a decreasing interest in the case altogether.

Mildred is a powerful, quick-witted, no-bullshit woman who is past the point of weighing up the consequences of her actions. The grief has turned into anger, and to even begin to accept the death of her Angela, she needs to hang on to the search for answers, for results.

Chief Willoughby and his protégé Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell, who brings one of the most layered performances to the film) pay a visit to the advertising company responsible for renting out these incendiary billboards in the first place. Enter the not-so-innocent Red (Caleb Landry Jones), who is smart enough to use the rulebook of capitalism against the police’s urges and threats to take the billboards down.

Although our first instinct is to muster up as much anger towards Willoughby as we can, there are a few things that cut that feeling at the root. For one, it is quite easy to see that Mildred is merely focussing her unsurmountable grief at the only people she can for now, who by not even making arrests, are not doing what they are being paid to do. More than that, Mildred and Willoughby actually share a matter-of-fact kind of bravery, in the sense that they can see a situation for what it is and take whatever course of action will suit them best, no matter the consequences.

Lucas Hedges plays Mildred’s son Robbie, and brings a similar presence to the one he brought in Kenneth Lonergan’s ‘Manchester by the Sea’. He deals with the broken pieces of his family and the backlash of his mother’s billboards with a of mixture of sarcasm, indifference, and anger (not necessarily in that order).

Martin McDonagh’s writing allows the characters to develop and act naturally, rolling with their impulses, never painting them as people to root for or hate, but framing each person’s reactions in their context. Dixon’s character development is by far the most emotionally challenging, starting of with all the elements of your stereotypical deep-south cop who thanks to his gun and badge deals out the law in his own way, to whomever displeases him, accentuated by a seemingly constant state of being ever so slightly drunk.

A stroke of genius occurs here, however, as the turn of events brings out the parts of Dixon only Willoughby saw in him, and it is truly through Dixon that McDonagh showcases his understanding of the necessary layers that make up a human being, and to what extent our personal grievances and hurt can interfere with our lives and actions.

The film is brilliant in its resistance to a classical Hollywood wrap up of the narrative, and pervades the reality and cruel randomness of life. People are always more than what they let you see, grief is never rational, and as Dixon put it himself, “It’s not so much about hope, but about getting better at English. Because you need English to be a cop. Or to be anything, really”.

Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

A strong end to the apes saga

There was always going to be a large, ape shaped shadow cast over each entry in the rebooted franchise. That famous last scene to the original has damned them to be second best regardless of their quality. Matt Reeves and his cowriter missed a trick with the ending and lost out on a ending that could have rivalled the original.

Caesar and his ape brethren are forced to live a nomadic lifestyle. They cannot settle too long or the ruthless human hunting party led by Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) will slaughter them. His son returns from an expedition to find a new permanent home far away from San Francisco with the perfect candidate location. Many close to Caesar call for the immediate moving of the colony but he refuses, a move that costs the life of his wife and son and the eventual capture of the entire colony except him and his key advisors such as Maurice.

Whilst trying to seek revenge, he is himself captured and brought before McCullough, with his punishment among other things being to listen to an exhaustive lecture. It detailed the current state of mankind and a new disease which ironically turns people into what the primates were before ALZ-112. Harrelson tries with all his might to inject his lifeless lines with vigour but although he performs admirably, by far the most complex villain of the trilogy, it never quite materialises into anything more than a plot device for exposition. Having said that the manner in which he meets his demise was impressively well executed.

The plot was let down in other areas too such as its circumstantial development. When Caesar is tracking McCullough he tails the soldiers from afar. Three times in succession he gains the exact information he needs in the dying breath of both friend and foe. This manner of writing is unoriginal and chokes the life out of the narrative, detracting from the immersion Reeves tries to envelop the viewer in. Reeves should be praised however for using heavy themes such as concentration camps, slavery and biblical imagery. This coupled with the distinct lack of dialogue for large portions of the film make this a blockbuster film unlike any other. It tackles real issues, taking risks in the process.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a noticeable improvement on both its predecessor. Even the CGI which has been phenomenal so far got better with Maurice looking as real as his human counterparts. The biggest criticism I have it one that runs through all three films but is most prevalent here. Besides the small girl there were only a couple of female actresses peppered in the background of the film, and the only racial diversity was an albino silverback gorilla named Winter. How can a film that preaches togetherness, equality and acceptance of differences have so little gender and racial diversity?

From this point I will talk about my proposed alternate ending so there will be major spoilers, continue at your own peril. As the apes are escaping the stronghold during the human battle, the faction from the north are victorious. They watch the stronghold explode from outside its gates, thousands upon thousands of men. Caesar stands on a large boulder and they all turn to face him, each dressed in snow camouflage with masks covering their faces. Instead of an avalanche coming down the mountain and killing them all, and the tepid ending that follows, I would have liked to see Caesar rise up and roar. A roar that releases his anger about his wife and son’s death, his anger at his fellow ape’s slavery and murder, and the sadness at what a refusal of peace had cost him. Every member of the army in front of him would begin to remove their masks and camouflage to reveal themselves to be apes. Beginning one by one, then en masse, they put both arms in the air to form the together strong symbol. The camera pans across, showing thousands of apes forming the symbol before cutting to credits.

Some minor changes would have to be made in terms of the narrative in order to make this a watertight ending but the capacity for shock and awe is massive. Not only that but it will give the trilogy something it currently lacks, a reason to re-watch. Over 6 hours of film, multiple large scale battles and innumerable casualties for them to simply to move away from San Francisco. It was always going to be difficult to achieve what the original did for a climax, but it is hard not to be disappointed with how Reeves chose to conclude the series.