Film Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

Writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz’s feature debut The Peanut Butter Falcon is an offbeat and very endearing tale.

When Zak escapes from his care home, he encounters Tyler, a small time crook. The pair set out on a less than straightforward journey south…

Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a road movie with an odd couple as its central protagonists. The juxtaposition of these two characters functions well. Tyler’s predominant drive seems to be self-interest, whilst Zak’s ambition is to get to the wrestling school. As so with road movies, it is the metaphorical journey that is pivotal.

As the narrative progresses, the friendship between Zak and Tyler develops in a charming manner. Dialogue between the pair is often amusing, and sometimes heartfelt. Nilson and Schwartz have crafted characters that viewers will really care about. The film relays background detail distinctly, leaving room for characters to grow whilst showing how they got to this point. 

The film is overt in its reference to Mark Twain; the author’s influence on the filmmakers is abundantly clear. The travelling along the river, and the friendship between an unlikely pair make the film feel like a homage to Twain. 

The narrative is littered with humorous incidences along the way as the pair make their way to their destination. The addition of Eleanor just before final third does change the dynamic. However, her presence enhances the camaraderie, rather than distracting from it. 

The soundtrack feels in keeping with the setting, whilst photography captures the beauty and wildness of the landscape. The Peanut Butter Falcon delivers good performances from Shia Labeouf, Zack Gottsagen, and Dakota Johnson. John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, and Thomas Haden Church are cast in some wonderful minor roles. The appearance of former wrestlers is a nice touch. 

The Peanut Butter Falcon is both heartwarming and humorous. A charming debut from Nilson and Schwartz. 

The Peanut Butter Falcon is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019. 

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s black comedy drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is well-written, well performed, and thoroughly engaging.

After months have passed since the murder of her daughter, Mildred Hayes is angry with the police’s lack of action. She takes out billboard adverts calling out the police chief, and gets everyone attention…

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has the same brand of dark humour that viewers may expect of the filmmaker. The film also has genuinely heartfelt moments. The film is about grief and acceptance, but it has a remit that goes beyond this.

Set in a small town, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri touches upon a number of aspects. Predominantly it is a film about Mildred’s search for justice, and her grief. Furthermore, a strand focuses on journey for Officer Dixon. It also speaks about police and their role in the community, albeit in a light-touch manner.

The narrative unfolds at a good pace. It is hard to predict where the film will go. Mildred’s desire for justice is always depicted in a sympathetic light, even when her methods are eyebrow raising. McDonagh’s film was never going to conclude in a neat way. The very end of the film projects a theme that runs throughout. This is partly a nihilistic futility, and partly a nod to the fact that things in life are often open-ended. However, this does not make the film bleak. There is Dixon’s journey broadly positive, for example, and there are elements of resolution to Mildred’s story too.

Performances in the film are excellent. Frances McDormand delivers a strong performance that is humorous, sympathetic, and sincere. Sam Rockwell is also excellent, as is Woody Harrelson. Good support is provided from Caleb Landry Jones and John Hawkes. The cast have an excellent screenplay to work with. The dialogue is great, and always appears natural.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not McDonagh’s magnum opus, but is it still very a well made and immensely watchable picture.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is closing the BFI London Film Festival on 15th October 2017.

Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene is an absorbing film, and an impressive feature debut from writer-director Sean Durkin.

After escaping a cult, Martha calls her sister Lucy to rescue her. Staying with Lucy and her husband Ted, Martha struggles to adjust to normality. As she spends time with the couple, Martha is haunted by memories of her past…

Martha Marcy May Marlene successfully conveys the unease of such a cult. The film plays on the viewer’s distrust of such a set up, offering plenty which causes discomfort. At the same time, it is not difficult to see that the initial warmth shown to Martha would have been welcomed by a lonely and naïve girl.

The flashback format of storytelling is executed well in Durkin’s film. Martha Marcy May Marlene retains a sense of mystery. The film does not give the audience all of the answers, and is more intriguing because of this. For instance, the reasons for Martha ending up in such a situation are not fully revealed. It is apparent that she have had some struggles earlier in her life, but these are not explicitly detailed. In this way, Martha’s story could be more or less the same as the other young people involved in the cult. The film thus works on a wider scale, highlighting the attraction of a “new family” for these youngsters.

Cinematography in the film is very distinctive. Different looks are used to differentiate Martha’s two separate worlds. At times they meld together, suggestive of her state of mind. The song repeated in the film suitably sets the tone for the film.

John Hawkes is excellent as Patrick. He has an unsettling quality which is integral to the character. Elizabeth Olsen also delivers a solid performance as Martha; she is very believable as the young woman.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a thought-provoking drama. The fine performances render it one to watch.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone is an unremittingly bleak film, yet at the same time it is absorbing for the entire duration.

Seventeen-year-old Ree takes care of her mentally ill mother and two younger siblings in an isolated Ozark Mountain community. When she finds out her father has put up their house has collateral for his bail and is now missing, Ree takes it upon herself to track him down…

Winter’s Bone is a slow-moving, but engrossing film. The strength of the film lies in the performances of the cast, the atmosphere generated, and the unfolding of what is a very simple narrative. Winter’s Bone is a mystery where information is revealed little by little, thus engaging the audience throughout.

The film also depicts the harsh realities of poor communities living in more isolated parts of America. Ree and her family seem to survive day by day, often relying on the charity of neighbours and family. The poverty exhibited in the film is just about as big a contrast as you can get to the glitziness of Hollywood.

Jennifer Lawrence gives a tremendous performance as teenager Ree. It is an understated portrayal that is overwhelmingly convincing. Ree’s struggle is at times difficult to watch, but Lawrence brings a determination to the role that is quite affecting. John Hawkes puts in a good turn as Ree’s reluctant uncle Teardrop; he effectively represents the darkness of the character that occasionally gives way to tenderness for his family.

Debra Granik’s direction is composed, often contrasting the sparseness of the landscape with the claustrophobia of the small homes. The cinematography and art direction have generated a palette almost desaturated of strong colour. Along with the effective use of sound, this creates a memorable but not a comfortable atmosphere.

Winter’s Bone is unlikely to become an instant favourite with most, due to the bleak tone of the film. It is, however, an affecting picture that deserves the critical accolades bestowed upon it.