Quick awards season takes: Three Billboards, The Post, Molly's Game

There is plenty of talk at the moment around a The Post ‘backlash’, which I must admit to me seems like a misnomer. Was it a film that garnered a massive amount of support to begin with? It sits with just a 6.6 average on IMDb and a 65% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The critic Rotten Tomato score is admittedly better at 86%.

Still, it’s not as if there have been unequivocal raves for it and I’m on board with not unequivocally raving for it. Spielberg’s recent cinema has, for me, lagged behind his contemporaries, lacked dynamic plotting and visual flourish and, most surprisingly of all for this director, followed some fairly turgid pacing.

The Post is the apex of that trend. It plays as if Spielberg hasn’t seen the newsroom covered on film before. There’s none of the tension or drive of Spotlight, none of the thrill of Zodiac. And that’s before we get on to the All The President’s Men references, which raised The Post for me from dull and flaccid to downright irritating.

The film covers the period immediately before All The President’s Men and is therefore almost obligated to touch on it. But the way that this happens, placing itself in the All The President’s Men continuum, has a smack of arrogance about it. Does Spielberg deserve licence to give himself such a lofty perch? On balance, yes, probably; but his film does not. We are a whisker away from Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) meeting a young journalist who introduces himself as either Woodward or Bernstein, prompting a double-take of James Bond-pigeon proportions. It’s unsophisticated, plain of message and lacking in thrills.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a brighter watch, although not to the point where I felt it troubling my top 10 of the year (constantly in progress here).

This is the first Martin McDonagh film I’ve felt mixed on, rather than at one end of the spectrum or the other. I admire the morals of the film and the attack on the ills of the world, the intricacies of being human and making mistakes and the plain wrong.

That said, in doing all of that, McDonagh comes across a little like a highly strung film student; someone who knows right from wrong and is going to lay all of that out over a couple of hours, so that we do too.

In doing so he leaves himself a lot to resolve and only manages a portion of it. One character turns into an omnipotent controller of the plot and the other characters within it. Another goes through an about turn that chimes as much with his previous roles as it grates against his initial casting against type. The victim in the central murder is lost somewhere in everything else that is going on. Perhaps that’s a fair reflection of the familial chaos that follows such an event.

The performances stick with you above anything else. Lucas Hedges shows Manchester By The Sea was no fluke. Woody Harrelson does his thing and can continue to do it until the end of time. Sam Rockwell is impressive. Frances McDormand is a titan and deserves awards recognition. Abbie Cornish bizarrely fails to mask her Australian accent on a regular basis. Caleb Landry Jones’ drawl is, for probably the first time ever, not completely distracting.

Giving much more trouble to my top 10 consideration was Molly’s Game, during which Jessica Chastain gets to take on a series of moronic powerful men and Idris Elba acts as the audience’s moral guide. Elba’s character is at once impressed by Chastain’s Molly and uncertain of her aims and values. As he attempts to unpick them so do we.

There are two missteps that belie the fact that Aaron Sorkin is a longtime writer but first time director. A scene where Molly is assaulted is shot with horrible fades and generally gives the impression that Sorkin has never directed a piece of very physical ‘action’ before, nor asked anyone how he should do it. Late on, he manufactures two characters together in a way that doesn’t make sense and could surely have been solved in the script.

That script though is impressive and Sorkin proves that he can keep up with himself. He has described the film as his typical mid-budget adult Thriller; the only things he knows how to write and now, demonstrably, direct. If screenplay is everything and this is by one of our greatest living screenwriters then, hey, it must be good to a degree. The real skill is in that negotiating of Molly's morals. Sorkin has spoken of how he was never in doubt of where Molly lay on a spectrum of good and evil, but the film paints in enough shades of grey to both keep you guessing and keep the character sympathetic.

Elba, released from the mumbling shackles of his iconic Bell and Luther roles, really impresses. His future is more intelligent and more cerebral than Bond; interestingly a similar arc that Chastain continues to tread.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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