Martin McDonagh. He’s a man that now needs little introduction. Even if you’re not familiar with the name, you’ll likely be well aware of his films. They combine quick-witted dialogue with desperately sad plots that will keep you laughing while your heart is being ripped out. Knowing exactly which emotions he needs the audience to feel and when, the British-Irish director and playwright has truly perfected the art of black comedy.
That mastery has not gone unnoticed either. McDonagh has now won several major awards for his films, including helping Francis McDormand and Sam Rockwell take home Academy Awards in 2018. Once again, his most recent work has received similar praise, with The Banshees of Inisherin nominated for Best Picture in the Oscars after already cleaning up at the Golden Globes.
Soggy Popcorn has taken a chronological look through McDonagh’s incredible back catalogue to find out why he deserves such acclaim.
If you haven’t seen In Bruges yet then I give you permission to stop reading, close your computer, and go visit Netflix.
Released in 2008, McDonagh’s first major film is a masterpiece that truly exemplifies his skills in dark humor. It combines hilarious comedy with drama, gangster shootouts, and a touch of romance, all set in a serene Belgian town so beautifully resented by its main character Ray.
McDonagh’s casting is flawless. It’s the first time that Colin Farrell worked with Brendan Gleeson, and the pair are truly a sight to behold. In a recent interview, Farrell said that he felt like he and Gleeson were old souls who had met in a previous life. As insane as that might sound, their In Bruges performance really feels that way, the writing allowing them to bounce off each other scene after scene.
Maybe taking some influence from his own life, Farrell fits in perfectly as the cocky Irishman who has a darkness lurking just beneath the surface. Ray’s delivery of profanity-laden one-liners is also unparalleled, and it’s impossible to get tired of his hatred for the quaint town he’s been sent to lie low.
“A great day this has turned out to be. I’m suicidal, my mate tries to kill me, my gun gets nicked, and we’re still in f*ckin’ Bruges!” Chef’s kiss.
Its 71% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes ranks it the lowest of McDonagh’s work, but Seven Psychopaths is not to be missed. I don’t know whether it’s the meta plot or the beautiful addition of Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken to McDonagh’s bizarre world, but the 2012 film is one that I keep returning to.
The Los Angeles-based film seemed to indicate McDonagh’s transition into the world of Hollywood. Thankfully, he doesn’t lose any of that Irish charm so prevalent in the dialogue of In Bruges. As a self-critical writer, Colin Farrell’s character Marty might not have quite the same level of self-assertiveness as Ray, but what he loses Rockwell makes up for in spades through his cocky character Billy.
It’s a fast-paced story involving an unwritten screenplay and a gangster’s kidnapped dog. Testament to McDonagh’s writing, the script contains plenty of heart-rending moments interspersed with satire in just the right places. It might not be McDonagh’s best work, but Seven Psychopaths definitely deserves a viewing.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
If anyone didn’t know it beforehand, McDonagh’s name became commonplace among the best directors in the world after 2018’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Combining the usual McDonagh recipe of a gripping plot, quirky characters, and unbeatable dialogue, it’s the first time that McDonagh secured an Oscar nod. It may have missed out on Best Picture, but it secured Best Actress for Francis McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Rockwell.
Three Billboards is the only of McDonagh’s feature-length films in which Farrel does not make an appearance, but McDormand makes a more than fitting substitute in the leading role. With three Best Actress Academy Awards already to her name and up for a fourth this year, she is without doubt one of the best talents of her generation, and her Three Billboards character Mildred Hayes seems a perfect fit.
Then, of course, there is Sam Rockwell as the drunk, violent, racist cop Jason Dixon, who through some act of cinema wizardry ends up getting the sympathy of the audience. It’s probably McDonagh’s best example of how he can turn a character from a villain to a hero within the confines of one plot.
If you haven’t seen Three Billboards yet I really don’t know what you’re waiting for.
The Banshees of Inisherin
For his latest film, McDonagh truly brings it back to basics. If Three Billboards demonstrates that the director has come a long way in the years since In Bruges, The Banshees of Inisherin shows that he definitely hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from. Set off the coast of Galway, it truly seems the most Irish of all the Irish films, and the setting really seems like a love letter to the country itself despite its dark plot.
Coming full circle, Farrell and Gleeson return to film together for the first time since In Bruges, but it never feels like McDonagh is trying the same old tricks. With Farrell as the loveable but dull Pádraic and Gleeson as his former best friend Colm, the roles are completely fresh despite the fact that they have clearly retained the same chemistry that we saw all those years ago.
Barry Keoghan also deserves a shoutout for his role as the dim, crude, and slightly moronic Dominic. Again, McDonagh demonstrates through Dominic how he can turn an unlikeable character into one you feel the most sorry for, symbolizing that each person has a depth that we might never truly know. Keoghan conveys that message beautifully, and his acting is genuinely breathtaking throughout.
In what seems a bizarre tale about one man deciding he no longer likes the other, McDonagh delves into deep issues of mortality and unlived potential almost without you even noticing. It’s one of those films that you will be thinking about long afterwards and it deserves all of the praise it has received.