Tag Archives: Frances McDormand

Blood Simple (1984) Review

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Blood Simple

Time: 99 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language & sex scenes
Cast:
John Getz as Ray
Frances McDormand as Abby
Dan Hedaya as Julian Marty
M. Emmet Walsh as Lorren Visser
Samm-Art Williams as Meurice
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

A man (Dan Hedaya) hires detectives to find out whether or not his wife (Frances McDormand) has been cheating on him. He orders the detective (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill her off if his suspicions turn out to be true.

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I knew of Blood Simple as being the first film from Joel and Ethan Coen, I liked a lot of their movies so I wanted to check it out. In all honesty I wasn’t really expecting much from it, despite hearing some positive things about it. However Blood Simple was a good film along with being a great debut movie from the pair.

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Blood Simple is a moody and seedy crime thriller, and an effective neo-noir. You can actually see glimpses of what the Coen Brothers would do later on in their careers, especially with the writing style. Tonally it does lean more into their serious crime work like No Country for Old Men, despite featuring some dark humour. While this movie doesn’t have the memorable characters or amazing dialogue you’d find in the Coen Brothers’ later movies, the writing is still great, so was the dialogue. The plot is simple enough and isn’t too expository, while playing around with characters perspectives. It is one of their most suspenseful movies, with the feelings of anxiety and paranoia gradually increasing over the course of the movie, and the plot wasn’t predictable. The final act is particularly tense. There are also little bits of dark humour blended in earlier in the movie. I will say that the characters in this movie aren’t exactly great, especially when compared to the characters in the Coen’s other films. All the characters are simple with like one trait each. So although the performances are good, I didn’t really care for the characters. It does take its time getting into the movie because the pacing is quite slow despite the fact that it is 90 minutes long, but I settled into it eventually.

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As I just said, the characters aren’t as memorable or impressive, at least when compared to the other characters that the Coen Brothers have written in other movies. Nonetheless, the performances are great. Frances McDormand gives an excellent performance in one of her early roles. M. Emmet Walsh is also impressive as the private investigator, who initially comes across as an unlikable goofball, but also turns menacing, and he balances both aspects of his character very well. The acting definitely makes up for the actual writing of the characters.

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The direction perfectly compliments the writing, and Blood Simple was a stylish and technically impressive debut that feels assured. The budget is definitely on the lower side at around $1.5 million, and it’s not as polished as their later work but you sort of expect it. It is gorgeously shot and has some great cinematography from Barry Sonnenfeld, from the camerawork and movements to the lighting and the use of neon. The scenes of tension and violence are also excellently crafted, with the final sequence being one of the most thrilling sequences that the Coen Brothers have ever filmed. Carter Burwell’s score is also memorable and really captures the film’s essence.

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The Coen Brothers have definitely made better movies than Blood Simple, but it is a very assured and solid directorial debut, and one that contains all the ingredients that made their later films so great. If you are a fan of them as writers and directors then it’s definitely worth watching, but it’s also worth watching if you are a fan of crime and noir thrillers in general.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) Review

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The Tragedy of Macbeth

Time: 105 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Denzel Washington as Lord Macbeth
Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth
Corey Hawkins as Macduff
Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan
Harry Melling as Malcolm
Director: Joel Coen

A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland. His ambitious wife will do anything to support him in his plans of seizing power.

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There are already plenty of adaptations of Macbeth out there, and it’s a little hard for me to get into any movies based on Williams Shakespeare’s work (mainly because of the dialogue). However, Joel Coen taking on the material had me highly anticipating his Macbeth movie, along with adding actors like Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. The Tragedy of Macbeth is an atmospheric, and moody Shakespeare adaptation, and with strong performances and direction.

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There’s not really much to say about Macbeth’s writing since its still very much Shakespeare’s classic play. With that comes with the same confusing Shakespeare language and unless you’re very familiar with that kind of speech, it would probably be a problem for you. So if you’re going to watch it, its either best to watch it with subtitles on, or read up about the play beforehand to know what was happening. It was great getting to watch the movie in cinemas, but I do admit that I wished I had subtitles on. Thankfully, I knew the general plot having watched the 2015 Macbeth movie so I had an idea of where everything was going. I didn’t understand what was being said most of the time, but I expected that when I willingly watched a Macbeth movie. There really wasn’t anything new brought to the story thematically, it’s just the distinct style, but I guess that’s all that was needed.

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There is a great cast involved. Denzel Washington is fantastic as Macbeth and delivers a powerhouse of a performance. Masterful, compelling, and a great on screen presence, its one of his best acting works I’ve seen from him. Frances McDormand is also really good as Lady Macbeth, she is in great command of every scene she’s in. Kathryn Hunter is also notable in her croaking, contortionist turn as the three witches, she is incredible in her scenes. Other actors like Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, and Harry Melling also play their parts very well, but its Washington, McDormand and Hunter that stand out the most.

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As said before, Joel Coen directs this, and The Tragedy of Macbeth is very different from anything that the Coen brothers have done before. Its very bold and unconventional, it’s a technical marvel and one of the biggest strengths of the movie.  The presentation is haunting, and the world portrayed here is very off kilter. The cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel is easily one of the best from 2021. In a way it is very minimalist but incredibly effective. You get caught up in its gorgeous black and white photography, with the German expressionism inspired and brutalist look, along with the 4:3 framing making the film feel very contained. The lighting, dense shadows, and the use of fog and smoke go towards giving it a haunting atmosphere. The sets are classic and old school, it felt like stage play sets with grandiose buildings. The editing is simple yet effective, and the transitions are seamless. The sound design is striking, and the score works incredibly well for the tone of the movie. An impressive part of the movie is that it manages to be both theatrical and cinematic. On a cinematic level it goes into the surreal with the memorable imagery. Yet it also works on a theatrical level, aspects like the dialogue heavy interactions, the long monologues, characters entering and exiting scenes, they all work together.

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The Tragedy of Macbeth is very much an art film and a Shakespeare movie, so it definitely isn’t for everyone. But if you know what you’re getting into, I’d say that it is well worth a watch. It’s a superb technical achievement from the direction, cinematography and editing, and it has some excellent performances, especially from Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand and Kathryn Hunter. At the very least, it stands out as the Coens’ most distinct works.

The French Dispatch (2021) Review

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The French Dispatch

Time: 103 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language, nudity, drug use & sexual references
Cast:
Bill Murray as Arthur Howitzer Jr.
Owen Wilson as Herbsaint Sazerac
Tilda Swinton as J.K.L. Berensen
Benicio del Toro as Moses Rosenthaler
Adrien Brody as Julien Cadazio
Léa Seydoux as Simone
Frances McDormand as Lucinda Krementz
Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli
Lyna Khoudri as Juliette
Jeffrey Wright as Roebuck Wright
Mathieu Amalric as The Commissaire
Stephen Park as Lt. Nescaffier
Director: Wes Anderson

A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch.”

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At the New Zealand International Film Festival, I managed to secure tickets for three movies I wanted to see. The first was Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch which I’ve been looking forward to. I had been interested in it from the cast, the trailer and of course Anderson directing, who has made a lot of movies I really liked. But I was especially looking forward to it after going through his whole filmography from beginning to end, and by the end I liked him even more as a director. So I was excited for The French Dispatch, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end.

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The French Dispatch’s plot is about a magazine with the same name, with the movie beginning with the death of the editor (played by Bill Murray). The story we follow is about the magazine, and the articles in it. As such, the film is essentially an anthology movie, made up of some short stories. With it being an anthology movie, it comes with the typical trappings. The tone changes with every section, and some sections are better than others. However, I liked them all. In a way it is his most messy and disjointed film, but it compliments his style. I do think that it’s a strong contender for his least accessible movie, I wouldn’t recommend this being your first Wes Anderson movie. As someone who has seen all his other movies, I really enjoyed it. It was very entertaining and delightful with some great humour. Each of his story very clearly has Anderson’s wit that we’ve come to expect from him, especially with the memorable dialogue. However it’s not only a very fun movie to watch, you really feel the passion behind it. Essentially, The French Dispatch is a love letter to journalists. I’ve seen some people say that this movie feels emotionally distant even by Wes Anderson’s standards, but I thoroughly disagree. There are some genuinely tender and heartfelt moments across the three stories. The anthology approach to the overall story made it feel like you are reading a book or magazine at times, which was for its benefit. All the stories are at the very least enjoyable to watch. There is an introduction segment following Owen Wilson, which is light hearted and fun to watch, definitely a good way to start the stories. The first of the main three stories follows Benicio Del Toro as an artist in a prison, and this is probably my favourite of three stories. The second of the stories is about a student protest, and stars Timothee Chalamet. I do like this story but its distinctly my least favourite of the three. I really didn’t know where it was going, and I don’t mean in a good way. The pacing is inconsistent across the film but this was the only case where it really started to weigh on the movie. The third of the stories follows Jeffrey Wright and its about a kidnapping. It was nearly my favourite of the three and it was a great story to end on.

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The French Dispatch has an absurdly large cast, by far the largest cast that Wes Anderson has worked with. In terms of the main actors in the stories, the first story stars Benicio Del Toro, Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody and Tilda Swinton, the second segment has Timothee Chalamet and Frances McDormand, and the third segment has Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, and Stephen Chow. There’s also the head of the newspaper played by Bill Murray. The cast are all welcome to see and are fantastic in their parts, even though most of them are only here for brief appearances.

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Wes Anderson is the director and you can clearly feel that throughout. In fact this film is so Wes Anderson you could almost call it a self parody. It’s his most unique movie and that’s really saying a lot, with some shots in this that aren’t anything like he’s done before. It is aesthetically pleasing with fantastic visuals. We’ve come to expect this from Wes but every time he somehow surprises. It flips certain shots from black and white to colour, it even shifts aspect ratio, and even changes between live action to animation. The Alexandre Desplat perfectly fits the movie and the overall tone.

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This is the most Wes Anderson movie possible, and I’m not sure if everyone will like it. I think it’s definitely a contender for being one of the more divisive Anderson movies. However I really liked it. I loved the anthology approach with three distinct stories, with each having something to love about them. I loved the performances from the stacked cast (with Jeffrey Wright and Benicio Del Toro being among the highlights), and I loved the direction from Anderson. Definitely among my favourite films from 2021 thus far.

Nomadland (2020) Review

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Nomadland

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Nudity
Cast:
Frances McDormand as Fern
David Strathairn as David
Linda May as Linda
Swankie as Swankie
Director: Chloé Zhao

A woman (Frances McDormand) embarks on a journey through the American West after losing everything during the recession.

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I had been hearing a lot about Nomadland, with many declaring it as of the best movies of 2020, and a frontrunner for awards season. I heard about the premise and the type of movie it would be, I went into it preparing with the right mindset. Having seen it, I can say that it definitely deserves all the hype.

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One thing to note is that Nomadland is not quite for everyone. Specifically, is fairly plotless and more character driven. We are just watching the lead character Fern (Frances McDormand) going on her journey of being a nomad. The writing is phenomenal across the board. One of the highlights of the movie is that it shows us a lifestyle that we don’t really get to see often, that of being a Nomad. While I’m not an expert on the subject, it has an authenticity to how it was portrayed. Nomadland is a story about real people and real stories. I really liked the stories we hear about from the side characters about what drove them to this life: people who lost someone and were using this life (through nature) to heal themselves, people who were treated poorly by life itself, etc. At times it felt like some scenes were taken straight from a documentary about nomads rather than a film, the way they were written and performed seemed so organic. This screenplay is full of many side memorable and heartfelt characters who leave their mark on the story and, more importantly, Fern (despite some only appearing for a scene or two). At its core however, Nomadland is a character study focusing on Fern, revealing itself as a portrait of a woman in deep loss to the point where normal life doesn’t make sense. It’s very reflective too, you can connect with everything that’s happening, even if you don’t relate to it. It’s an intimate (albeit still grand), resonant, real look into the loneliness that follows loss and grief. As I said, the movie is fairly plotless and there isn’t much driving the story, but sort of fitting. Like Nomads, we don’t know where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing in ten minutes when watching the movie. You get lost in the beautiful American landscapes and joined Fern on her literal and spiritual journey. So often you’ll be seeing Fern doing rather mundane things, but you are nonetheless invested in her journey. It might take a while for you to get into the movie, but I was invested very early on.

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Frances McDormand is the main lead of the movie as Fern, the story of the movie is about her, and from beginning to end she gives a naturalistic performance. McDormand’s acting is very understated but flawless, being able to convey every emotion that Fern is thinking with just looks, and really captures this character well. It is a fantastic performance that most actors in this role would typically overplay, but McDormand plays this with subtlety. It is a strong contender for her best acting performance, and that’s saying a lot considering the work she’s delivered in the past. The supporting cast is great, consisting mostly of people playing nomads. David Strathairn is the most known actor of the supporting cast, but many of the other nomads are actually played by authentic nomads, and they perform their parts well too, especially opposite from McDormand.

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Arguably, the true star of Nomadland is Chloe Zhao, who wrote, directed, produced, and edited this film, her fingerprints are all over this movie. I haven’t seen her previous movie The Rider but now I really want to because her work here is incredible. The movie is clearly crafted with such love and care, her direction is genuinely masterful, and she is more than capable of telling a story with just the movement of the camera. Throughout, Nomadland feels natural and personal, almost like a documentary. The direction did remind me a bit of Terrence Malick, but Zhao makes this style her own in a movie that needs this approach to make it as effective as it is. The cinematography is outstanding and beautiful from start to finish, especially with the landscapes that the movie takes many opportunities to really show off, such as the long tracking shots of Fern’s van driving long distances. However, it even makes things that should be boring and mundane to look at, say Fern in a laundromat, look outstanding especially with how everything is composed and framed. The score is sparse but does consist of tracks from Ludovico Einaudi, and they are fitting and perfect and add so much to the scenes they were used in.

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Nomadland is a beautiful, quiet, heartfelt, and naturalistic character study. Frances McDormand gives a pitch perfect (and possibly career best) performance, and Chloe Zhao’s work here is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s definitely one of the best movies of the year and is worth going to watch, especially on the big screen if possible.

Isle of Dogs (2018) Review

Time: 101 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence and Coarse Language
Cast:
Bryan Cranston as Chief
Koyu Rankin as Atari Kobayashi
Edward Norton as Rex
Bob Balaban as King
Bill Murray as Boss
Jeff Goldblum as Duke
Kunichi Nomura as Mayor Kobayashi
Akira Takayama as Major Domo
Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker
Frances McDormand as Interpreter Nelson
Akira Ito as Professor Watanabe
Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg
Harvey Keitel as Gondo
F. Murray Abraham as Jupiter
Yoko Ono as Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono
Tilda Swinton as Oracle
Ken Watanabe as Head Surgeon
Mari Natsuki as Auntie
Fisher Stevens as Scrap
Nijiro Murakami as Editor Hiroshi
Liev Schreiber as Spots
Courtney B. Vance as the narrator
Yojiro Noda as News Anchor
Frank Wood as Simul-Translate Machine
Director: Wes Anderson

When, by executive decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, 12-year-old Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.

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I was looking forward to Isle of Dogs, it was one of my most anticipated films of 2018. For whatever reason, I’ve been having to wait for this film to release here when it was already released a couple months prior everywhere else, however it’s finally here. I’ve seen a few films from Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom) and I liked what I’ve seen from him. With this being the second time he stop motion animated a movie (with the first being Fantastic Mr Fox), I was confident that this would be a solid movie, and that it was. It was pretty much what I expected and maybe a little bit more.

Isle of Dogs is an hour and 40 minutes long and from start to finish I was entertained. You can tell that it is definitely a Wes Anderson story. It has a very unique and original story with quirky characters, deadpan humour which is really funny and unique and is just entertaining overall. I didn’t really have too many faults with it, though there might’ve been a slight overuse of flashbacks, which does halt the story at times. Also some places and characters that the film at times cuts to (AKA characters that aren’t the main characters) really weren’t as interesting as the main storyline/characters. Isle of Dogs is kind of a kids movie, though it does go a little unexpectedly dark at times, so if you have some kids thinking that they’re going in expecting a cute film about a bunch of talking dogs, let’s just say that it won’t be what they are expecting. Aside from some minor faults, Isle of Dogs has a pretty solid story.

There is a lot of voice actors involved (Wes Anderson always seems to have a large and talented cast in his films). Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Liev Schreiber and much more consist of the voice cast, and they all did good jobs as their characters, with Cranston being a particular standout.

As I said, this is the second time that Wes Anderson has directed a stop motion animated movie and once again he did a great job. Fantastic Mr Fox was good, but his handling of stop motion animation was even better here with Isle of Dogs, it is a great looking film. Also on top of the movie feeling like a Wes Anderson written movie, it also feels like a Wes Anderson directed movie. Everything from the framing, camera position, editing, everything here really feels like his film. Now if you’re not familiar with Wes Anderson’s style in his films, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s really difficult to describe because you can’t compare his movies to anyone else’s. If you haven’t seen any of his movies before, I do recommend giving this a go. If you can’t get into Wes Anderson’s other movies because of his style, chances are Isle of Dogs won’t win you over. There was an interesting decision made, all the dialogue from the dogs are in English, however most of the dialogue by the humans are in Japanese, and a significant amount of it isn’t translated into English. It works most of the time to show the language barrier, but I only say that it works most of the time because often times someone else has to translate what they are saying in English because some of the dialogue contains plot details that we the audience need to know. The film tries to have a mix of untranslated dialogue that we don’t hear (and yet convey the message visually so we still understand what’s going on) while having English exposition explaining everything to us and it didn’t quite work as well as I think it was intended to. I think it would’ve been better sticking with one way, whether that be all human dialogue in Japanese, Japanese dialogue with subtitles or all the dialogue in English, because it felt jarring when they kept changing their method of human dialogue. It’s not a major flaw with the movie, just something that stands out that is worth addressing.

On the whole, Isle of Dogs really worked well. It was entertaining, I could get invested in the story and I just enjoyed watching it from start to finish. If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, I think you’ll definitely dig this. If you haven’t seen any of his movies before, I’d say that Isle of Dogs is a good place to start with his movies. His films may not appeal to everyone but I recommend giving it a go at the very least.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) Review

Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Contains violence, rape themes, suicide & offensive language
Cast:
Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes
Woody Harrelson as Sheriff Bill Willoughby
Sam Rockwell as Officer Jason Dixon
John Hawkes as Charlie Hayes
Peter Dinklage as James
Lucas Hedges as Robbie Hayes
Abbie Cornish as Anne Willoughby
Samara Weaving as Penelope
Caleb Landry Jones as Red Welby
Sandy Martin as Mrs. Dixon
Director: Martin McDonagh

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) — an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence — gets involved, the battle is only exacerbated.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was one of my most anticipated films of 2017. On top of having a great cast with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, it was Martin McDonagh’s next film, and so that had my undivided attention. His previous movies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths were amazing and some of my favourite movies. So understand that it means a lot when I say that Three Billboards is a career best from Martin McDonagh.

Martin McDonagh’s writing is absolutely fantastic, no surprise there. A lot of elements of his style of his writing in his previous films here too. The dialogue is once again pheromonal, ranging from comedic, to shocking and sometimes even heartfelt. Three Billboards is hilarious at times, with comedy often appearing in surprising moments but at the same time the film is quite dark, bleak, and very emotional. Not many people can switch tones on a dime and make it work effectively but McDonagh is one of the few people who can do it. One of the best parts about Three Billboards is that you can’t predict what’s going to happen, which is why I recommend not looking into this movie too much before watching it, I only watched the trailers going in and I was surprised by a lot of things that happened, and I’m not easily surprised. This is a very original screenplay and nothing is in black and white, there are really no heroes or villains here. The characters are well realised and given more depth than you might initially think they have. One thing I know that will definitely divide people is the ending, it was quite abrupt and not quite what I expected, if I was going to compare it to another movie ending, it would be to No Country for Old Men. However, I think that there was a real reason for this decision and something about it made me okay with it, but I will need to think about it more.

Frances McDormand is fantastic here, she’s had many great performances but this is her best performance since Fargo, and it’s possibly better which is saying a lot. She’s likable, tough as nails and really is a force of nature on screen, while maintaining some vulnerability, Mildred Hayes one of the best characters that Martin McDonagh has written. She really was the perfect actress for the role, I can’t seen anyone else playing her. Woody Harrelson’s performance as the chief of police who McDormand’s Mildred is calling out shouldn’t be overlooked either. His performance here is very nuanced and emotional, this is some of the most emotional work that Harrelson has done and he really is great. Sam Rockwell is quite an underrated and great actor, so its no surprise that he gives an excellent performance here, but this might also be one of the best performances he’s ever given. He plays a racist, dim-witted, violent and unstable cop. On top of having to be both hilarious and vile, he’s also got to have this unexpected arc (which I won’t go too deep into) and all I’ll have to say is that Rockwell was remarkable and pulls it off. Other actors like John Hawkes, Sandy Martin, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges and Caleb Landry Jones all do great jobs and each have their moments to shine.

Martin McDonagh’s direction of Three Billboards overall is good. The direction isn’t really the highlight or focus of the movie but McDonagh does the best he can to make it the best it can be. The cinematography was good, complimenting the performances and writing while never overshadowing them. Carter Burwell’s score also fits perfectly with the movie, it’s there when it needs to be there to and at the right moments. The only out of place thing in terms of the direction was at one point there was an obviously looking CGI deer, that took me out of the movie a bit but that’s just in one scene.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is absolutely fantastic. The performances were amazing, especially from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell and it’s Martin McDonagh’s phenomonal writing and direction that makes it all fit together to make a remarkable movie. Hilarious, shocking, dark and emotional, Three Billboards is one of my all times favourite movies of 2017.