The Underrated Martin McDonagh

by Ned Johnstone

Martin McDonagh, the genius responsible for In Bruges (2008), Seven Psychopaths (2012) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) is undoubtedly my favourite filmmaker of all time. At only 50 years of age, McDonagh’s career has been more than notable. Having written at least six wildly successful plays, McDonagh is considered amongst Ireland’s most acclaimed playwrights alive today. At one stage in his career, he was the only playwright in the world to have four of his plays running simultaneously on London’s stages.

His directorial debut, In Bruges, is easily one of my favourite films. Also written by McDonagh, this action-packed dark comedy starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson is easily McDonagh’s most under-appreciated production. Much like his next two films, it is the dialogue of In Bruges that makes it so special. Aside from Three Billboards, McDonagh’s films often lack any real distinct plot or storyline; much like an episode of Seinfeld, the films rely heavily on character interactions to make them entertaining and, thanks to McDonagh’s screenwriting brilliance, it works! Granted, consistently casting the likes of talented actors such as Collin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell is going to guarantee interesting and exciting characters, however, it is the deadpan delivery of McDonagh’s wonderfully dark European humour that make these movies so enjoyable.

Seven Psychopaths is the first of McDonagh’s films that I saw and before even knowing his name I decided then and there that this man was my favourite screenwriter. The idea alone of Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken stealing dogs only to give them back to the owners and retrieve the reward perfectly sums up McDonagh’s wild and magnificent imagination. Just the synopsis of this movie is entertaining enough, however, once again, when you combine it with McDonagh’s writing and an all-star cast you are left with a near-perfect movie. This movie is entirely unpredictable and the totally chaotic nature of it all is closed perfectly with, in my opinion, one of the most elegant and brilliant film endings of all time.

Finally, it is with his most recent film that McDonagh receives some of the recognition he deserves. Another brilliant screenplay allows for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell to each earn themselves an Academy Award with the film earning another five nominations on top of that. This movie strays only slightly from McDonagh’s usual quirkiness and for this reason is my least favourite of his films however Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is nevertheless an outstanding picture.

Creating interesting and memorable characters is certainly one of McDonagh’s strengths and this movie epitomises that. The tough, stubborn and powerful Mildred Hayes is a seriously memorable protagonist and is played so perfectly by Frances McDormand. Each distinct character contributes beautifully to the expansive world of this film making it so immersive and ginormous in scale. Finally, the character development of Jason Dixon, played so well by Sam Rockwell, is a real testament to McDonagh’s admirable talent in story-telling.

McDonagh’s use of absurdity and dark humour in the exploration of really very dark and serious subject matters make all of his films so remarkable. His talent never ceases to blow my mind and, with apparent production of a new film set to begin this year, this man is certainly someone to watch.