Shock and Awe


You can tell they’re journalists by their rumpled clothes.

(2017) True Life Drama (VerticalWoody Harrelson, James Marsden, Rob Reiner, Tommy Lee Jones, Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich, Richard Schiff, Luke Tennie, Terence Rosemore, Margo Moorer, Michael Harding, Kate Butler, Luke White, Gabe White, Bowen Hoover, Caroline Fourmy, Teri Wyble, Al Sapienza, Steve Coulter, Gretchen Koerner. Directed by Rob Reiner

 

We live in a world where the press is often vilified for having an anti-American agenda – by the President. We live in a world where good journalism is often – if you’ll excuse the expression – trumped by potential profit. We also live in a world where we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly 20 years, the longest period we have ever been in a sustained conflict.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, though. America had just endured the horror of 9/11 and the people were eager to make someone pay. Afghanistan was a good candidate since they had given bin-Laden and Al Qaeda shelter, but then the rumors that George Bush, Dick Cheyney and Donald Rumsfeld were planning on invading Iraq as well took a lot of people by surprise. “Oh, but Weapons of Mass Destruction,” said the White House and everyone believed it, even though there was little or no evidence that they existed.

Not everyone believed; reporters for the Washington bureau of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain (for whom I once toiled although by 2001 I had been gone for five years) Warren Strobel (Marsden) and Jonathan Landay (Harrelson) were mystified at the media’s simple acceptance of the government’s claims without even basic fact checking, and began to dive deeper into those claims. What they found was disturbing to say the least, but nobody wanted to hear it; many of the papers in the Knight-Ridder chain refused to print the articles the men wrote, preferring to accept New York Times reporter Judith Miller and her pro-government assertions, for which she and the Times would later apologize – and which effectively ended Miller’s career as a respected journalist.

Clearly the film takes its cues from All the President’s Men, certainly the high end of crusading journalist movies. Reiner, who has made his share of politically charged movies (A Few Good Men and LBJ among them) doesn’t really instill the film with a lot of passion; perhaps it’s that he had to pull double duty as an actor when Alec Baldwin pulled out of the film literally a day before shooting started (it was a scheduling thing) but the movie is curiously low-energy.

Perhaps part of the film’s problem is that despite an excellent cast and a story that deserves to be told, it didn’t end well. The war, as we all know, happened and continues to happen to this day; thousands of American lives lost, literally more than a million Iraqi citizens dead, trillions of dollars spent and, well, here we still are. I suppose Strobel and Landay have the satisfaction of having been right but they weren’t able to convince anybody as we got our first taste of politics as entertainment. The media’s failure here only added to the distrust of the Fourth Estate which of course Trump and his cronies are exploiting and which have helped America into the mess it’s in now. Yes, I’m recommending the film – it’s a cautionary tale worth listening to, and it’s well-acted for the most part – but it’s a downer. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

REASONS TO SEE: The cast is extraordinary. Has a documentary-like feel, in a good way.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little heavy on the journalistic aphorisms.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fourth time Jones and Harrelson have appeared in the same film together, most notably in Natural Born Killers.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews: Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spotlight
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Hamlet in the Golden Vale

New Releases for the Week of October 18, 2019


ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP

(Columbia) Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Luke Wilson . Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Tallahassee, Columbus, Little Rock and Wichita return ten years after the hit movie, reuniting with the original writers and director. In the time that has passed, the zombies have begun to evolve, leading to a whole new set of rules. Meanwhile the snarky family bicker with one another as they travel from the American heartland to the White House, meeting up with human survivors and celebrity zombies along the way.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content)

Dolemite Is My Name

(Netflix) Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps. Rudy Ray Moore made a reputation in the 70s as an African-American comic who was always willing to push the boundaries. His alter ego, Dolemite, was a rapping pimp Kung Fu master, and the character – considered too risky for any major studio – would become a defining figure of the Blaxploitation era

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for some sexuality, full nudity and brief language)

First Love

(Well Go USA) Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Becky. The latest in the oeuvre of anarchic and prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike is this wild tale of a boxer and a call girl who fall madly in love but are caught in the crossfire of a Yakuza drug smuggling scheme over the course of one night on the mean streets of Tokyo.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Gangster
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR
 

Lucy in the Sky

(Fox Searchlight) Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz. An astronaut returns home following a transcendent experience in space but soon begins to feel that her life is meant to be lived up there. As the yearning grows stronger, her connection with reality begins to disintegrate.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

(Disney) Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam Riley. The Princess Aurora’s impending wedding to Prince Phillip causes strife between her and her godmother Maleficent. A great war is looming between humans and fairies and the two women may find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict if they aren’t careful.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images)

Mountaintop

(Abramorama) Neil Young. Young and his legendary back-up band Crazy Horse make their first album in seven years. Their journey through personal pain, age and stubborn refusal to compromise shows at their core an undying passion for the music that binds them together.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Wednesday Only)
Rating: NR

Western Stars

(Warner Brothers) Bruce Springsteen, Patty Scialfa. Springsteen, who co-directed this film, performs songs from his latest album live.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary/Concert Film
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Waterford Lakes (Saturday Only)
Rating: PG (for some thematic elements, alcohol and smoking images, and brief language)

Where’s My Roy Cohn?

(Sony Classics) Roy M. Cohn, Joseph McCarthy, Barbara Walters, Donald J. Trump.  One of the most notorious lawyers who helped shape the House of Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, worked for the Nixon White House and helped get Donald Trump elected.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some sexual material and violent images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Along Came the Devil 2
An Ideal Husband</em
Cotton Club Encore
Loro
Mary

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Pain and Glory
Wallflower

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

None

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

My People, My Country

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Lucy in the Sky
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Mountaintop
Wallflower
Zombieland: Double Tap

Jim Allison: Breakthrough


They call him surf cowboy…

(2019) Documentary (DadaJim Allison, Woody Harrelson (narrator), Willie Nelson, Sharon Belvin, Malinda Allison, Dr. Jedd Wolchok, Andrew Pollack, Eric Benson, Murphy Allison, G. Barrie Kitto, Lewis Lanier, Tyler Jacks, Jeffrey Bluestone, Max Krummel, Alan Korman, Nils Lonberg, Dr. Elliott Sigal, Rachel Humphrey, Padmee Sharma. Directed by Bill Haney

 

Occasionally, you see a documentary that resonates with you because of the place and time that you’re in. It’s the cinematic version of all the planets aligning to smite the viewer with something so personal, so relevant to the viewer that one can’t help but be sucked in.

Jim Allison is a Texas iconoclast with a scruffy beard, a wild mane of hair and a collection of Hawaiian shirts that would shame Magnum, P.I. He plays blues harmonica with such luminaries as Willie Nelson but that’s more of a hobby. You see, when Jim Allison isn’t busy blowing his harp or fighting the powers that be in Texas education regarding the teaching of creationism in schools, he is developing a cure for cancer.

This particularly hits home for me since in May I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and just this past Wednesday I had surgery to have it removed. This type of cancer is the same that Jim’s brother Mike was stricken with and eventually succumbed to. Jim’s mom also passed from lymphoma when Jim was just 11 years old; it was then that the seeds of beating this dread disease were planted in him.

Jim went the route of immunotherapy, using the body’s own immune system to beat cancer. The T-cell is one of the components of white blood cells that seek out cells that are causing harm in the body. Cancer cells have managed to figure out a way to turn off the receptors in T-cells which effectively renders them invisible to the body’s immune system, allowing them to flourish and grow until it’s all over but the funeral arrangements.

Jim developed a drug with the odd name of Ipilimumab which faced a daunting task to make it from the lab to the pharmacy. A tremendous amount of research would be needed before the FDA would approve the drug, the kind of money only Big Pharma can provide and to be bloody honest Big Pharma has a reputation to be more about treating cancer than curing it. However, Bristol Myers Squibb, one of the biggest of Big Pharma, led by Dr. Rachel Humphrey, decided that the research Jim had conducted was promising. The rest, as they say, is history. Jim’s dogged persistence had a great deal to do with his success, but it also cost him his marriage as his wife Malinda like most human beings didn’t have an inexhaustible well of patience.

The movie is essentially a whole lot of talking head interviews interspersed with some nifty computer graphics depicting how T-cells work and other medical matters. One of the most compelling interviews is with Sharon Belvin, at the time a 22-year-old newlywed who was diagnosed with melanoma, essentially a death sentence. She was part of one of the first to participate in clinical trials for the drug and eventually became the first patient to use the drug that Allison met, one of the most emotional scenes in the film.

Much of the science went right over my head – there’s a reason I’m a film critic and not a research scientist – and some might find the scientific sequences thick. However, Jim’s “I gotta be me” personality and perseverance in the face of widespread disbelief on the part of his colleagues and often outright disrespect are some of the highlights of the film.

I’m hoping that I don’t need to use drugs like ipilimumab in the future; I’m hopeful that the cancer was caught early enough that the surgical removal of my prostate will leave me free of cancer for years to come. There are no guarantees when it comes to the Big C, however, and it’s comforting to know that there are drugs and methods out there that may extend my life many years beyond what prostate cancer patients in years past were able to survive so if I rate the documentary on the high side, I think I can be excused for that.

REASONS TO SEE: A really close look at how important research is done. Portrait of a Texas iconoclast.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the science is a bit dense.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity as well as adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Allison shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Tasuku Honjo of Japan in 2018.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews: Metacritic: 62/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fire in the Blood
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Out of Omaha

Solo: A Star Wars Story


“Chewie, I’ve got a bad feeling about this..”

(2018) Science Fiction (Disney/Lucasfilm) Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau (voice), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (voice), Erin Kellyman, Linda Hunt (voice), Ian Kenny, John Tui, Anna Francolini, Andrew Woodall, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Anthony Daniels, Charlotte Louise. Directed by Ron Howard

 

Prequels can serve one of two purposes; to give insight to an established character or franchise, or to forever tarnish them. The much-anticipated Solo: A Star Wars Story could go either way…or both.

Han Solo (Ehrenreich) is an orphan committing crimes for a kind of reptilian Fagin named lady Proxima (Hunt). He and his best girl Qi’ra (Clarke) plan to get out of the life and find a life of their own but their plans go awry and the two are separated. Indy..I mean Han…resolves to come back for her and joins the Imperial Stormtroopers as a pilot. Eventually, he meets scoundrel Tobias Beckett (Harrelson) who along with his squeeze Val (Newton) are planning a big heist, one which may finally get him the opportunity to finally rescue his girl. First he will have to avoid the wrath of the crime boss Dryden Vos (Bettany) and meet up with future allies Chewbacca (Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Glover).

This is a movie in which the sum of its parts exceeds the whole. An underrated cast, writer Lawrence Kasdan who wrote arguably the best installment in the series (Return of the Jedi) and one of Hollywood’s most respected directors (Oscar winner Ron Howard). Still, despite exceptional turns by Harrelson and particularly Glover (who at one time was rumored to be toplining a Lando Calrissian movie of his own) the movie feels curiously flat. Perhaps it was because Howard was brought in late after much footage had already been shot by departing directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were (depending on who you ask) shown the door or found it on their own after artistic differences with Disney brass. More likely, it’s because Ehrenreich who is a very talented actor, was given a no-win situation in which he was given. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is one of the most iconic roles of the last 50 years and most people can’t see anyone playing Solo except Ford. I will say that Ehrenreich does his level best but for whatever reason his performance didn’t resonate with me. Great effects, great pacing and great cinematography can take a movie so far but it also has to connect, to inspire and amaze. Solo does none of those things.

REASONS TO GO: Glover and Harrelson do bang-up jobs.
REASONS TO STAY: The film left me feeling flat and was overall a disappointment.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some science fiction-type violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fertility idol from the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark can be seen on a table in the meeting room of Dryden Vos, the villain.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews: Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Then Came You

New Releases for the Week of October 5, 2018


VENOM

(Columbia/Marvel) Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Jenny Slate, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Lee, Sope Aluko, Reid Scott, Mac Brandt, Melora Walters. Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Investigative reporter Eddie Brock tries to redeem himself following a scandal following a government experiment involving an alien symbiotic lifeform but accidentally becomes infected by the symbiote. He becomes Venom, a violent and often malevolent entity who has his own agenda but with a shadowy organization with nefarious ambitions of the own trying to develop their own version, the alien and the reporter realize their interests intersect.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language)

A Star is Born

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle. The latest version of a timeless classic finds a grizzled musician with a rosier past than future falling for a young woman who has given up on her dream of stardom. He coaxes her into the spotlight and her career immediately takes off but the higher she soars, the more strain on their relationship is placed particularly since he has a substance abuse problem that is putting everything in jeopardy. Cooper also makes his directorial debut.

See the trailer, a video featurette and a music video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse)

The Church

(Hard Floor) Clint Howard, Bill Moseley, Ashley C. Williams, Meghan Strange. The minister of a once vibrant and iconic Baptist church in a decaying Philadelphia neighborhood resists gentrification despite pleas from his status-seeking wife and bribes from unscrupulous developers. He is determined to preserve the legacy of his family’s ministry in the neighborhood even if he has to break a few commandments to do it!

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and thematic materials)

Mandy

(RLJE) Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke. A peaceful couple living in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest has their lives shattered by a twisted cult leader who develops an obsession with Mandy, the distaff half of the couple. Red, the male half, is forced to go on a journey of vengeance, blood, fire and rage.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Monsters and Men

(Neon) Anthony Ramos, John David Washington, Nicole Beharie, Cara Buono. A young man with a promising athletic future witnesses a police shooting, recording it on his cellphone. He has the valuable proof that will validate the assertion that it was unjustified but releasing the footage could jeopardize his future.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language)

Pick of the Litter

(Sundance Selects) Dana Nachman, Don Hardy Jr. This documentary follows a litter of puppies from the moment of their birth through the two years of training to be service dogs for the blind. The bar is set high and not every dog makes the cut. Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, the film provides insight as to how dogs go from unruly pups to disciplined service animals.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Shine

(GVN) Jorge Burgos, Gilbert Saldivar, Jadi Collado, Alysia Reiner. Two salsa dancing Puerto Rican brothers in Spanish Harlem are estranged by a family tragedy. Years later they have chosen different paths; one looking for success as a real estate developer, the other devoted to preserving their old neighborhood at all costs. What’s a dancer to do…except dance?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Urban Dance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC West Oaks, Cobb Plaza Café Cinema, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Andhadhun
Bayou Caviar
Exes Baggage
Nota
Ride

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

96
A Crooked Somebody
Exes Baggage
Fats Buddies
The Hate U Give
Hello, Mrs. Money
Nota
Prathamika Shale, Kasargud, Koduge Ramanna Rai
The Sisters Brothers

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

96
A Crooked Somebody
Loveyatri
Loving Pablo
Nota
Pariyerum Perumal
Raatchasan
Ride
Tea With the Dames
Varathan
Viking Destiny

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

96
Andhadhun
Exes Baggage
Nota

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Star is Born
The Church
Mandy
Pick of the Litter
Tea With the Dames
Venom

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Tampa, FL)

New Releases for the Week of May 25, 2018


SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

(Disney) Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt. Directed by Ron Howard

The story of everyone’s favorite scoundrel comes to life as we discover how Han Solo hooked up with Chewbacca, acquired the Millennium Falcon and became the daring pilot he would eventually be. The production was a bit of a troubled one as directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go after the proverbial creative differences. Thus far reviews have been tepid but most critics agree that Glover, as a young Lando Calrissian, is a breakout star.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby Atmos IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence)

Beast

(Roadside Attractions) Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle. A troubled young woman finds herself caught in the middle between her oppressive and overbearing family and a seductive stranger who is suspected in a series of brutal murders.

See the trailer and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content, language and some sexuality)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Kasal
Let the Sunshine In
Nela Ticket
Raazi

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Boom for Real
The Desert Bride
The Endless
In Darkness
Kasal
Let the Sunshine In
Nela Ticket
That Summer

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Ammammagarillu
Kasal
Mahanati
Nela Ticket
Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran
Raazi

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Kasal
Keep the Change
Nela Ticket
Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran
Raazi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Keep the Change
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Frances McDormand demands answers in this Oscar-nominated film.

(2017) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones, Zeljko Ivanek, Lucas Hedges, Kerry Condon, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Peer Dinklage, Amanda Warren, John Hawkes, Clarke Peters, Kathryn Newton, Sandy Martin, Jerry Winsett, Samara Weaving, Christopher Berry, Malaya Rivera Drew. Directed by Martin McDonagh

 

There is nothing that compares to the pain of a parent whose child has been murdered. It is the unthinkable, the unimaginable – what every parent has nightmares about. Some unlucky parents don’t have to imagine though.

Mildred (McDormand) is one of those. Nine months have passed since her daughter Angela was raped and then set on fire by some sadistic freak. No progress whatsoever has been made in finding her killer. To make things worse, the spot where her daughter spent her last tortured minutes was on the site of three dilapidated billboards near enough to Mildred’s house that she must drive past them every time she leaves the house, where she can see the burn mark where her daughter gasped her last.

Her fury has threatened to consume her. She has to do something, anything to help her little girl get justice. So she marches into the ad agency that services the billboards and plops down five thousand bucks for the first month of a year-long rental. The three billboards are painted red with copy in big black letters: RAPED AND KILLED, AND STILL NO ARRESTS? and finally HOW COME CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?

The billboards have immediate and profound effect. Deputy Dixon (Rockwell), a drunken and violent racist creep who’d much rather be arresting black folks, is the first to see the messages. He informs Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) who goes ballistic but after asking Mildred politely to remove the billboards, he confesses that he has pancreatic cancer and he doesn’t want his family to have to deal with another unpleasant thing.

It turns out Willoughby is actually a decent sort who is trying his damndest to solve the case but there simply isn’t enough evidence. Dixon, who owes a lot to the chief is much more direct; he goes after Red Welby (Jones) who runs the ad agency and gives him a terrifying beating. Things begin to escalate in the war between the cops and Mildred; her surviving son Robbie (Hedges) is caught in the crossfire. Yet all is not what it seems to be in Ebbing, Missouri.

On the surface it seems like a very cut and dried story but as the movie unspools you quickly realize you’re seeing a work of uncommon depth and complexity. While it appears that there are some villainous characters in the story, there are in fact none. Even Dixon ends up finding some sort of redemption although it is hard to justify his previous behavior.

The acting in this movie is nothing short of astonishing. Three cast members received Oscar nominations – McDormand, Rockwell and Harrelson – and there easily could have been more. While it is McDormand’s movie, it is not hers alone. Watching her tightly controlled rage which from time to time her humanity breaks through is simply a clinic. We eventually find out that Mildred’s pain isn’t just because of the incompetence of the police; her last interaction with Angela literally sent her on the road to her fatal encounter. It’s some powerful stuff and shows how a great actress can take a well-written character and create a classic performance. If the competition for Best Actress weren’t so stiff this year she might well be a shoo-in. Harrelson also plays a decent sort with rough edges who is facing the end of his life and not necessarily with the dignity he would like to. Rockwell, who won a Golden Globe, may give the best performance of all as the loutish Dixon who literally comes through the fire a changed man.

It is hard to believe this is McDonagh’s third feature and as good as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are, this is by far the best of the three. His background as a playwright shines through more in the writing than in the direction which is not stage-y in the least. However, the sense that the town is much smaller than it appears to be lingers throughout.

I would have liked to have seen less contrivance in some of the events; some things happen that appear to happen only because the plot requires them to. There is also a bit of a lull in the middle where it feels that the movie is hitting a plateau, but the ending is absolutely extraordinary. Making a great ending to a movie is something of a lost art but McDonagh seems to have mastered it.

Nearly all of the characters are dealing with some sort of pain, either physical or emotional. The movie is about that true but it is also about forgiveness, redemption and humanity in the face of intolerable grief. While this isn’t a perfect movie, it had the potential to be and if the second act had been a little better, this might have gotten a higher rating. Still, it stands out in a year of really great independent films as one that is going to be in our hearts and minds for a long time to come.

REASONS TO GO: The acting is Oscar-worthy throughout the cast. The characters are all riddled with pain in one way or another. The ending of the film is sublime.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the events feel a little bit contrived. The film loses momentum in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of violence, plenty of profanity and some brief sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature film directed by McDonagh that didn’t feature Colin Farrell in a lead role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 88/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fargo
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
In the Shadow of Iris