“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

There are three reasons that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the very best films of the year. 1. Martin McDonagh’s raw direction and script. 2. Frances McDormand’s phenomenal work as a vengeful mother. 3. Sam Rockwell’s amazing performance as a redeemable sociopathic cop.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has grown rightfully furious over the lack of results in her daughter’s murder investigation. Rather than go after the killer herself, her solution is to advertise Sheriff Willoughby’s (Woody Harrelson) incompetence through three billboards. The entire town sides with Willoughby and harasses Mildred constantly, including Willoughby’s belligerent alcoholic deputy Dixon (Rockwell). That’s all you need to know about this film’s wonderfully dark premise.

Irish playwright McDonagh (2008’s terrific In Bruges and 2012’s underrated Seven Psychopaths) hasn’t lost steam with his third feature. If anything, he’s matured and more restrained. Three Billboards is just as shocking and foul-mouthed as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, but it’s more grounded. This is a film about three broken people who handle a tragedy in morbid fashion.

Mildred is a foul-mouthed force of nature. She isn’t afraid to drill a vindictive dentist’s thumb apart or ridicule a reporter on live TV, but she’s still human. Mildred doesn’t want revenge; she wants closure since she’s haunted by an argument she had with her daughter prior to her murder. McDormand delivers a fantastic multi-layered performance and is my frontrunner for Best Actress.

Willoughby is simply trying to maintain order and do right by Mildred. Not because it’s his job, but he wants to end his career on a noble note. He’s the ego to Mildred’s id and Harrelson is terrific as the ailing sheriff.

Then there’s Dixon. Dixon is a chaotic tornado of destruction who makes Mildred’s life a living hell. Despite his violent tendencies, Dixon is a flawed man who just wants a moment to shine. Dixon acts as the superego to Mildred and Willoughby. Rockwell delivers the best performance of his career and outshines Will Poulter’s evil cop character in Detroit.

McDonagh balances humor with poetic narrative and an attention-grabbing script. There are lines of dialogue that act as hypotheticals, but later become reality. He also has a cynical view of modern America that’s demonstrated in his depiction of the town community and Mildred’s morbid view of the Catholic Church. He’s not entirely wrong, though.

Three Billboards ends on a fittingly unresolved note that could make room for a potential sequel. McDonagh doesn’t strike me as the sequel lover, but I would hope he makes an exception in this case.

Grade: A+

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“True Detective” – Season 2

DISCLAIMER – I mainly review movies, but I make an exception for mini-series such as “True Detective” since they’re essentially longer movies.

I wish I could say “True Detective” was as brilliant this year as last year. If you guys haven’t seen season one, it featured Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Southern detectives investigating a ritualistic murder in the backwoods of Louisiana. It was unpredictable, artistic, innovative, and featured the best work from both Harrelson and McConaughey.

This season trades in mythical Louisiana swamps and backwoods for an industrial and deteriorating city outside Los Angeles. Colin Farrell is the corrupt alcoholic detective, Ray Velcoro, Rachel MacAdams is the debauched Sheriff’s Department investigator, Ani Bezzerides, and Taylor Kitsch is the traumatized ex-soldier Highway Patrolman, Paul Woodraugh. They’re assembled together to investigate the murder of a businessman linked to European gangsters and a reformed criminal-turned-businessman named Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn).

Each of the detectives are in the case for different reasons. Ray is pressured by his more crooked superiors and Frank (Ray is Frank’s enforcer) to solve the murder and cover up his department’s involvement, Ani is put in charge due to rank, and Paul is enlisted to avoid a scandal involving a young actress. Trust issues ensue among the four characters as they uncover shady business deals, a mob-hosted sex party, and the truth behind a rare bag of diamonds.

Let’s start with the positives of “True Detective” this season – Rachel MacAdams delivers a raw and badass performance, Taylor Kitsch proves he’s one of the most dedicated actors of his generation, and the soundtrack packs a deeper narrative.

Singer Lera Lynn wrote and performed several songs for this season and each song tells us something about the characters and the world they’re in. T-Bone Burnett returns as head composer with a synthesizer-heavy score that emphasizes the Neo-Noir style.

This season also features some of the craziest and bloody gunfights I’ve seen in any TV show or movie, including one in episode 4 that’s strongly reminiscent of Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995). However, this is where criticisms come in. The shootouts escalate out of nowhere and seem like Pizzolatto’s trying to outdo season 1’s craziest moments.

Let’s talk Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn here – they’re both clearly trying to deliver this season and both actors have some solid moments this season, but they’re both given the show’s worst dialogue that’s on par with “Star Wars: Episode I” level of quality. “Don’t do anything out of hunger, even eat.” –Vince Vaughn as Frank.

“Twelve years old my ass… fuck you.” –Colin Farrell as Ray.

Yeah, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are. The show also suffers from several genre cliches, pacing issues, and uncertainties with direction. The pacing and direction is likely attributed to the show having several different directors this season, as opposed to last (Cary Fukanaga directed all of season one).

The cliches are all painful and overdone with Ray as the cop who’s embraced corruption (like Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey in “LA Confidential (1997)) and Ani portrayed as a sexually troubled cop with a dysfunctional family (this has been seen with too many female detective characters to name).

SPOILER ALERT – It was no shock that these two would somehow fall for each other abruptly by the end.

MORE SPOILERS

The way Pizzolatto portrays women and homosexuals is tasteless and amateur here. Ani and her sister are both kinky due to a traumatic encounter in their childhood? Paul is a closeted homosexual with an incestuous mother? Frank’s wife does nothing but act concern for him? This all looks like Pizzolatto read half a page of a human sexuality textbook and wrote his few notes into the script.

The biggest disappointment though is the ending. The revelation of the killer isn’t epic or shocking, but rather anti-climactic and quickly resolved before turning back to the corruption story. I wanted to know more about the killer, dammit!

I mean, I’m all for trying something new with anthologies, but execution matters. This just wasn’t well executed as it could have been.

Grade: C