St. Anthony Messenger

Film Reviews with Sister Rose


Ten-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) has been homeschooled his entire life because of Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects his hearing, sight, and appearance. He loves science and wants to go to the moon someday. Though he’s had 26 reconstructive surgeries, he still wears a NASA space helmet everywhere to hide his face. His mom, Isabel (Julia Roberts), enrolls him in a prep middle school because all the fifth-graders will be new there. His dad, Nate (Owen Wilson), is supportive, as is Olivia “Via” (Izabela Vidovic), his older sister.

Despite a warm welcome from the principal (Mandy Patinkin), all the kids pick on him, save two: Jack (Noah Jupe) and Summer (Millie Davis). It’s heartbreaking when Auggie overhears Jack say disparaging things about him to the other kids. Added to this is Via’s sadness that the family’s focus seems to be exclusively on Auggie. When Via’s best friend abandons her, she and Auggie realize they are their own best friends.

Throughout the school year, the bullying increases when the main perpetrator, Julian (Bryce Gheisar), is suspended for continually harassing the very smart Auggie. His parents refuse to believe their son is a bully.

Wonder is skillfully adapted from the 2012 children’s novel by R.J. Palacio. Tremblay, who was incredible in 2015’s Room, inhabits his character with empathy for the burdens he shoulders. The connection between bullies and entitled parents is starkly drawn. I highly recommend this film, which restarts the conversation about what it means to be a kid who does the right thing when no one is looking.

A-2, PG, Mature themes.

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

When his law partner dies suddenly, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington), has to step up. Roman is probably on the Asperger’s spectrum: He is a savant who does poorly in social settings, but he knows the law. When a client asks him what esquire means, he replies, “It designates something above a gentleman and below a knight.”

A big-league attorney, George Pierce (Colin Farrell), takes over Roman’s cases, but he only wants what he can get from the latter’s brilliant mind. Roman, instead, tries to enlist George in a federal class-action case against prosecutors who overcharge suspects—and judges who fast-track pleas to avoid trials. George is uninterested.

Roman tries to change law firms, but is stuck at George’s firm. For once in his life, he has had enough and does something so uncharacteristic of himself because it is against the law.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy has created a unique movie with a film noir quality. If you look carefully, Roman will often appear to be a Christ-figure in his approach to justice and concern for others. Oscar-winner Washington is brilliant, as always. Even though the film is a bit heavy on dialogue, I was intrigued.

A-3, PG-13, Mature themes.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This new dark comedy from director Martin McDonagh tells the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a divorced mother whose only daughter was raped and murdered seven months previously. The police, led by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), have gotten nowhere in the investigation, so Mildred rents three billboards on a back highway that read: “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests,” “How come, Chief Willoughby?”

Her son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges), is mortified, as is the entire town, but none more than Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who has a reputation for arresting and beating black people in custody. He fixates on Mildred and the billboards, and his idiotic actions carry the story along.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is like watching a Flannery O’Connor novel. It is about the South, its prejudices, and the quirky people who make up the community, told through episodes of violence, sin, dark humor, and transcendent grace. This is an all-around awards contender with brilliant performances.

Not yet rated, R, Pervasive language, violence.

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