violence

Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri

 

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Frances McDormand in Three Billboards outside Ebbing Mssori. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

I did not run out and see writer/director/producer Martin McDonagh’s new film Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri because I knew it had something to do with an abduction of a young girl, and as a  parent, I tend to avoid plots like that. I didn’t really read about the film either, just enough to know that Frances McDormand was in it and that it was curiously labeled a dark comedy. This last factor is what got me to the theater earlier today; how could a film about the loss of a child be comic?

Three Billboards accomplishes this difficult feat because it isn’t actually about what happened to the lead character Mildred Hayes’ daughter Angela as much as it’s about what happened to the community around this awful event, and by extension, what happens to communities all over the world in the face of trauma, injustice, and tragedy.

McDormand plays Hayes as a steely-eyed, somewhat frightening, divorced mother trying to make it through each day in the wake of her daughter’s vicious rape and murder several months earlier. Frustrated with the lack of suspects brought in and her sense that the police are too busy harassing African-American kids for misdemeanors to “do their job” and investigate the murder, she takes the odd step of purchasing space on three billboards on the remote road near where her daughter was killed to chastise the police chief by asking why there have been no arrests. When it is revealed that the chief has pancreatic cancer, the town turns on Hayes, seeing her billboards as cruel considering he is on his deathbead.

And in a sense, it is cruel for her to leave those signs up in light of the chief’s devastating illness that will leave his two young daughters fatherless in a matter of weeks or moths. But it is this sort of  morally ambiguous circumstance that is piled up in layers throughout the brilliantly constructed script. The characters face tragedy after tragedy, each one responding in the way humans ordinarily do: with anger, violence, and hatred. And time and time again that response leads to further injustices, more pain for someone, and little by little an erosion of the community itself.

I could talk about the strength of McDormand’s performance, the equally solid work of Woody Harrelson as the Chief and Sam Rockwell as a racist police officer, but the weight of the film is carried by its script, which never feels predictable, but ends up seeming very real and very familiar. Police brutality, anti-cop violence, misogyny, racism, the victimization of young women, even the crimes of the Catholic Church are all subjects broached here, but ultimately, I was moved by everything in the story leading to the conclusion that anger in the face of tragedy must be tempered by thought, compassion, and an abiding vigilance guarding our common humanity.

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Follow-up to “Restrepo” Coming Soon

Sebastian Junger's "Korengal" opens this week in NYC.

Sebastian Junger’s “Korengal” opens this week in NYC.

Journalist turned filmmaker Sebastian Junger has recently completed a new documentary called Korengal. The film is a follow-up to Restrepo, which he made with the late Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya in 2011.

While Restrepo effectively showed us the experience of combat from a soldier’s perspective, shedding light on the difficulties they often face when returning to civilian society, Korengal was made to show the impact of war and conflict on the civilian populations directly affected.

Junger is a resident of Truro and  I am hoping his film will be shown on the Cape this year,in which case I can give you a full report on it. For now I just wanted to let my New York readers know that the film is opening there and its box office performance will be important to its future.

Here is an excerpt of the email I received from Junger last week to entice you:

“…my next film, Korengal, is about to come out on May 30th in New York. Tim and I had planned to make a follow-up to Restrepo, but a few weeks after going to the Oscars, Tim was killed in Libya while covering the civil war. I teamed up with our original editor and continued the project anyway. Restrepo was intended to give civilians an idea of what combat feels like; Korengal is completely different. It is meant to help soldiers – and civilians – understand the experience of war. How does fear work? What is courage? Why do so many soldiers miss the war? Why is it so hard to come home?

Korengal is completely self-financed and self-released. The upside is that no one could tell us how to make our film; the downside is that it is incredibly hard – and expensive – to get an independent film to hit critical mass and go nationwide. But that is exactly what we are going to try to do. If we sell out the Sunshine Theater (Houston and First Avenue) on opening weekend (May 29-June 1), Landmark will take our film nationwide. It will be a real victory for independent film – and for the whole national conversation about war and its aftermath.

In addition, a ticket stub from the film will get you a free beer or house wine at the Half King  (23rd Street and Tenth Avenue ) on opening weekend.   Below is a link to pre-buy tickets. Obviously the daytime shows are the hardest to fill, so if you can go to those instead of an evening show, that would be fantastic. Thank you so much for your support. I can’t wait to hear what you think of our film.”

–  Sebastian

Visit: korengalthemovie.com/screenings/ for tickets and  more information