Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of BEN IS BACK

Ben is Back, rated R
** ½ 

Ben is Back is an intense and emotional film about the love of a mother for her drug addicted son. The film is directed and written by Oscar nominee Peter Hedges (About a Boy), and features a strong cast.
The film opens with Holly, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), and three of her children pulling into their driveway near Younkers, New York on Christmas Eve. They are returning from a rehearsal for Christmas Eve Mass.  As she pulls in, Holly has to slam on the brakes when she sees her 19-year-old son Ben, played by Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Boy Erased), son of the film’s director/writer, standing nervously in the yard. Ben, an opioid addict, and has been sober for 77 days. Ben says that he is home for Christmas, courtesy of a pass from his sponsor, though we don’t know if that is true or not. Ben’s return is sudden and unexpected, catching the family off guard. This may be Holly’s Christmas miracle, and her two young children are thrilled, but Ben’s teenage sister Ivy, played by Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), thinks accepting Ben back will be a mistake, having seen the damage Ben’s addiction has done to the family in the past. But Holly tells her that this time it will be different. Continue reading


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My Review of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, rated R
***

This is a well-written and acted film featuring a strong cast, but has significant content issues. It is written and directed by Martin McDonagh, two-time Oscar nominee, and winner for the short film Six Shooter.
Frances McDormand, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for Fargo, portrays Mildred Hayes, a recently divorced mother whose teenage daughter was brutally raped and murdered seven months earlier. Mildred lives in Ebbing, Missouri (though the movie was actually filmed primarily in Sylva, a small mountain town in western North Carolina), with her teenage son Robbie, played by Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea). Her ex-husband Charlie, played by Oscar nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), now lives with a nineteen-year old girlfriend.
Mildred is furious with the local police for their lack of progress on her daughter’s case. She decides to rent three abandoned billboards on a rarely traveled road near her home on the outskirts of the town for the purpose of shaming popular Police Chief Willoughby, played by two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson (The Messenger) and his staff, for what she perceives as their ineptness on her daughter’s case. She works with Red Welby, played by Caleb Landry Jones, at the local advertising agency to rent the billboards. Welby’s character will play a significant role in the film.
The billboards become a controversy in the town when the local television station does an interview with Mildred.  A Catholic priest named Father Montgomery, played by Nick Searcy, visits the Hayes home and tells Mildred that he has taken a poll and most folks in the town are against the billboards, and that she should remove the messages. Mildred responds with vitriol toward the priest, taking the opportunity to implicate him in covering up for all priests who abuse young boys.
Chief Willoughby is married to Anne (Abbie Cornish) and has two small children.  [Note:  Abbie Cornish is a strange choice for this role – her Australian accent keeps breaking through – you’re probably not going to find many Aussies in that part of Missouri.]  The billboards prompt him to reach out to Mildred. He tells her that all of the leads have dried up; he’s sorry, but sometimes cases take a long time to be solved.
Sam Rockwell (Moon) plays Dixon, Willoughby’s second in command. He is racist, emotionally immature, lives with his mother, played by Sandy Martin, is often drunk, and enjoys comic books. James, played by Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) plays a small but key role in the film.
The film depicts flawed characters. Both Mildred and Chief Willoughby wonder if there is a God, or if there is anything past this life. Even though some of the characters do some very bad things, they are not all bad. The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language – lots of swear words, some of it of a sexual nature, and includes racist and discriminatory language, some played for laughs, and several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. These issues along with the violence may keep many people of faith from seeing this film.
Themes in the film include justice, vengeance, racism, and forgiveness. The film’s unique music score is provided by Carter Burwell and the cinematography is by Ben Davis.
This is a well-acted (especially McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell), written (including a lot of humor), and directed film. However, with the significant content issues noted above, I can’t recommend it to people of faith.