So far this year I have seen three great movies.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
I loved everything about this; especially Francis Mc Dormand. Her best performance since Fargo although I must confess I haven’t seen her in much else; just Laurel Canyon. She’s such a strong actor and this is a great role; written especially for her by the director and screenplay writer, Martin McDonagh. She’s an angry woman who doesn’t give a damn any more. She strides through the small town, taking no prisoners, in what she considers her righteous rage. The film leaves it to the viewer whether to agree with that self description or not. I normally don’t like violence in films but, as with McDonagh’s other two films, In Bruges and Seven ‘Psychos, I was not put off by it here. No hurriedly closed eyes on my part. In fact, when asked, I told people that it wasn’t very violent. I now admit it has its moments! Perhaps it didn’t affect me so much because it’s unexpected and over and done with quickly. There’s mostly no build up of tension and no lingering over blood and gore; which is really the worst thing about film violence. None is gratuitous; its integral to the story and to the characters. It’s also accompanied by plenty of black humour. Comedy with which not all critics have been in tune. I loved it. The jokes are as unexpected as the violence and over just as quickly before your get time to laugh. All of the supporting roles are great, both big and small. These are the sorts of people who live in small rural towns. They don’t have to like each other, but they have to get on. Which is why Mildred’s actions upset the whole apple cart. And, they know everything about each other. It’s a great ensemble effort. All of the characters have their good points and bad; as in real life. People are complicated; including Sam Rockwell’s very unlikeable racist cop. Sam was last seen by me in Moon and as in that film, he puts in a great performance. I also loved the soundtrack, which I often don’t notice in a film. Here the music is mostly by Carter Burwell, with a beautiful classical song from Renee Fleming thrown in. I liked it so much I bought it! In addition to anger, violence and humour there are some tender moments. You feel for Mildred and her inconsolable grief. You hope there’s some relief in store for her, although that outcome, is satisfyingly left up in air. Here’s the trailer.
I first saw this film when it was released in 2001. I loved it then and I loved it again. It hasn’t aged at all and is as relevant now as when it was made. A grown up film full of thought provoking ideas about how humans relate to each other; married couples, work colleagues, friends, children and parents. How do couples maintain trust between each other in long term relationships; what are the responsibilities of friends to each other; how should we /do we respond to loss. There are so many ideas here, and close observations about human relationships. All of the performances are terrific. Anthony LaPaglia and Kerry Armstrong as one of the three central married couples; he’s a detective, living on the edge of a complete physical and nervous breakdown. She is observant and anxious about what’s happening to him. Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey are another couple, she’s on edge while he is emotionally withdrawn; they’re dealing with the death of their daughter in different ways. The the third set of partners is played by Vince Colosimo and Daniela Farinacci; happy, trusting, raising little children; she’s a nurse working overtime to make up for the fact he’s unemployed. I loved the authenticity of juggling the needs of small children while dealing with what life throws at you. Leah Purcell, Rachel Blake and Peter Phelps all play outsiders seeking meaningful relationships. All these actors look so young! There are coincidences and red herrings as a death is investigated. It’s a police procedural but that’s not the main focus. Directed by Ray Lawrence, this is a restored print and it looks terrific. I love how the story is full of twists and turns. It doesn’t go where you expect. People are not all good, and not all bad. Life is messy. Is there a happy ending? We leave all of the characters wondering. If it comes your way it’s worth seeing again. Here is the trailer.
I had high expectations of this film because of its wonderful director, Warwick Thornton. His 2009 film Samson & Delilah was a revelation. No-one has captured the experience of Indigenous Australians better. And the performances he elicits from his non professional Aboriginal actors is wondrous. In both films. Hamilton Morris plays the stockman Sam Kelly, a man caught up in events beyond his control but which may cost him his life. His is a powerful portrayal of dignity and power under intolerable pressure. Natassia Gorey as his wife Lizzie is eloquent beyond measure in her silence. Especially in the scene depicting her encounter with station owner Harry March; which takes place largely behind a black screen through which we hear words (from Harry) that convey what’s happening more sinisterly than any camera could. As does Harry’s deliberate closing of all the windows under Lizzies watchful eyes. She knows what’s going to happen to her, and so do we. She’s powerless to stop it, or even to protest. We see how these Aboriginal workers are treated; as possessions to be shared or swapped between white men. There’s a young boy, played by twins, Tremayns and Trevon Doolan (wonderful names), who watches and learns how to survive in this environment. Silence is their only weapon. Sam and Lizzie flee the place of a killing; why did you run? he’s asked later, because I killed a white man. Sam’s skill in the hostile country through which they travel would ensure their survival. Even as Bryan Brown’s search party, aided by the tracker Archie, played by John Gibson, closes in. But for Lizzie’s sake, Sam takes them both back to town; where likely injustice awaits him. The trial overseen by Matt Day as the judge is intense. The film is based on a true story and the language during the trial, in front of red neck white bushmen who are not interested in the facts, sounds as thought it’s lifted directly from a court transcript. Hamilton’s performance as Sam throughout is amazing. We see the doubt, fear, resignation reflected in his eyes, in his silence, in his entire body. I loved everything about this film. There’s not a wasted word. We learn enough about all of the characters to understand their motivations and responses to events. We learn of black tracker Archie’s forced removal from his own country. Police officer Bryan Brown contemplates an alternative, gentler life. Even Harry Marsh is given a sympathetic back story. The harshness of the environment and the effort required to build the simplest things is writ large. As Warwick has commented, and his film shows, this country was built on the forced labour of Aboriginals. The cinematography, by Warwick himself, is superb. The country is ravishing. Here’s the trailer.
In addition to these three, which were fantastic, I’ve seen two others that don’t come up to the same level but that were enjoyable enough.
The Shape of Water is, essentially, a retelling of Beauty and The Beast. All of the disparate bits were done really well but for some reason the whole didn’t add up to the sum of its parts. I’m not sure why. There were lots of moments that were quite subversive of the idea of the American Dream. None more so than the character of the boorish special agent, played, really well, by Michael Shannon. All of the performances were great. The monster looks terrific and attracts your sympathy. Sally Hawkins is wonderful as the mute woman with mysterious back story and strange scars on her neck (that you know will become gills!). Octavia Spenser is her fellow cleaner, who has her back as Americans say. Her continuous rapid repartee is both witty and wise. The nineteen sixties are perfectly captured. Lots of familiar television shows flash by; Mr Ed, Gilligan’s Island. There’s an imaginary dance sequence that puts the one in La La Land to shame. There’s cold war espionage, homophobia and racism. All done well. But, as I said, for some reason it didn’t pack the emotional punch it should have. Perhaps because there are some pretty big holes in the storyline. It’s not a spoiler to tell you what happens, as it’s clear where this is going right from the start. The relationship between Sally and the creature develops a little too seamlessly despite the 24 hour surveillance. We don’t get enough about the relationship between Sally and her friend Giles, played by the always good Richard Jenkins, or of his circumstances to feel much for him. The Soviets are a bit cartoonish. But it had some great visual moments which you can see here.
The Post has a great story to tell, but is ruined by veering into the predictable and schmaltzy at key points. People say; What did you expect, it’s SpielbergLincoln, the first three Indiana Jones films and E. T. . And Jurassic Park on the telly. I’ve read Katharine Graham’s autobiography Personal History which relates these events, and the context in which Mrs Graham was thrust, unprepared and largely unsupported, in a much more compelling manner. But if you expect a Spielberg film and one that was completed in record time, to underscore the story’s relevance in the age of Trump, you will enjoy it. The period is captured well; the gender roles, class (in classless America), deference to authority and the beginning of the upturning of all of that (at least for a time). Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are good, as usual, as are all of the supporting cast. It’s all very black and white; journalists are heroes, politicians board members and lawyers (except for the majority justices at the end) are baddies. There’s not an ounce of shade. Mrs Graham becomes a feminist icon overnight; something that she would never claim! Here’s the trailer.