The Films of Martin McDonagh
In Bruges (February 4/08)
Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges follows a pair of disparate hitmen as they're sent to the small Belgium town of Bruges to chill out following a particularly problematic job. There, the two (Farrell's Ray and Gleeson's Ken) spend their time sight-seeing and interacting with the locals - though the relaxing times come to a swift end with the appearance of their fearsome boss (Ralph Fiennes' Harry). Writer/director Martin McDonagh - making his debut here - has infused the majority of In Bruges with a deliberately-paced, overly talky sensibility that undoubtedly reflects his background as a playwright, and it's certainly difficult not to admire the fervor with which both Farrell and Gleeson tackle their respective characters and the film's ample dialogue (the actors' heavy accents does make it difficult to make out every word, admittedly). There does, however, reach a point at which the viewer begins to grow impatient for something of substance to happen, as - no matter how fascinating the characters may be - the increasingly languid atmosphere slowly-but-surely begins to lend the proceedings a distinct air of oppressiveness. Were it not for the inclusion of an unexpectedly eventful third act - anchored by Fiennes' astoundingly entertaining (and undeniably broad) performance - the movie most likely wouldn't fare quite as well as it ultimately does. McDonagh's progressively intricate screenplay clearly plays a substantial role in the film's late-in-the-game improvement, ensuring that - despite its flaws - In Bruges finally comes off as an uneven yet promising first effort.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths follows a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell's Marty) as he's inadvertently lured into a dognapping scheme by his best friend (Sam Rockwell's Billy) - with problems ensuing after Billy and his partner (Christopher Walken's Hans) kidnap a local gangster's (Woody Harrelson's Charlie) beloved pooch. It's a decidedly offbeat premise that is, at the outset, employed to watchable yet underwhelming effect by McDonagh, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a hit-and-miss feel that is, for much of the movie's first half, impossible to comfortably overlook. The inclusion of a few standout sequences (eg Charlie confronts Hans' dying wife) generally compensates, as does the effectiveness of the various performances (ie Rockwell has never been more entertaining), but the film doesn't wholeheartedly begin to engross until around the one-hour mark - after which point the narrative's escalating momentum becomes more and more difficult to resist. The end result is, like In Bruges, an entertainingly erratic effort that receives plenty of mileage out of the actors' stellar efforts and McDonagh's crisp dialogue, and it does seem like it's just a matter of time before McDonagh crafts a film that's more than just the sum of its parts.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh's best movie to date, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri follows Frances McDormand's grieving Mildred as she erects the title objects to goad the town's sheriff (Woody Harrelson's Willoughby) into solving her daughter's murder - with the narrative also weaving in such periphery characters as Sam Rockwell's dimwitted Dixon and Lucas Hedges' pragmatic Robbie. It's ultimately clear that Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri grows more and more compelling as it progresses, as writer/director McDonagh's predictably off-kilter approach initially prevents the viewer from embracing the characters and their respective exploits (ie McDonagh's on-the-nose dialogue can be just a little too clever for its own good). There's little doubt, however, that the movie, even during its less successful moments, benefits from the thoroughly (and uniformly) superlative work of its various actors - McDormand and Rockwell are especially magnetic here - and there does reach a point at which Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri becomes far more engrossing and captivating than one might've anticipated. The shift from watchable to electrifying comes with a mesmerizing stretch involving Harrelson's tragic figure, as the movie, past that point, is riddled with similarly spellbinding interludes that ultimately confirm its place as a seriously impressive and wrenching piece of work.