Saturday, August 25, 2018

Movie Reviews: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
directed by Martin McDonagh
You could view this film as a dark comedy or a drama. It shifts between both styles but so do our lives. I meant to see this Oscar winning movie quite some time ago, but made the mistake of watching other films first. When I circled back around to see this movie it was no longer available on VOD. Fortunately I ran across it on a premium channel.

You should see this movie. It was indeed Oscar worthy. The sad, beautiful, horrible thing about life is that we are all mixes of good and evil. Some of the worst people can do good on occasion while even seemingly beatific folks can reveal a dark side if you trip the wrong wire. This film makes you think about that a lot. Three Billboards... also has something to say about loss and the thin line between justice and vengeance. Anger and cruelty are not only dangerous to the objects of those emotions, but to the people who hold those emotions as well.

Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her role here. I think the award was well deserved. In this film, McDormand has a particular hardness to her features and the role she plays. I can't think offhand of too many other actresses that could have so completely disappeared into the role. McDormand's Mildred is a woman of a certain age who has been through a lot of pain and disappointment. And life has left marks on her. But Mildred is still standing. And Mildred has lost, if indeed she ever had, any tolerance for nonsense from anyone regardless of age, race, status, or sex. If you don't know where you stand with Mildred, you probably haven't been paying attention. But don't worry she has no problem spelling things out for you if you're particularly dim. 

Mildred is grieving because some months back her daughter was murdered. There haven't been any arrests. Mildred is losing hope that there's even an investigation. Hoping to light a fire under the powers that be, Mildred pays for three billboards which accuse the police of falling down on the job and question why there have been no arrests. The local police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) thinks that Mildred's accusations are more than a little unfair. 

The chief is popular among the town's citizens and has become even more so because of a terminal condition that everyone pretends he doesn't have. But Mildred does not change her mind once it's made up. Not for anyone. As the billboards get more media attention, town residents take sides. Most of them back the police. One noxious racist dangerous police officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) starts to harass Mildred and her friends and encourages others to do so. But Mildred is Mildred. If you come after her with fists she'll bring a baseball bat. 

There is comedy contrasted against violence. The violence is not cartoonish. All the characters feel very real. Mildred's intensity and purity of purpose initially appear to be righteous but such things may have an internal cost on her and on her relationship with her son Robbie (Lucas Hedges). 

Robbie is protective of his mother, especially when Mildred's abusive ex, his father Charlie (John Hawkes) appears, but Robbie is also occasionally embarrassed by his mother. Robbie wonders if there are better ways to protest and to honor his dead sister. Peter Dinklage is Mildred's friend who might like to be more. He also is a mirror to Mildred's rapidly receding conscience. 

Although the film is set in Missouri, it was very obviously shot in North Carolina.  There are no angels here.  Humans display all their beauty, pain and nastiness. Challenged as to why he keeps a racist like Dixon on the force, Willoughby claims that if he fired every racist cop he'd only have three cops on the force, and those would be homophobes. It's a joke but not really. Willoughby takes the world as he finds it. Is that wrong? It's easy to find good in a bad person if their malice is not directed at you. On the other hand the all consuming nature of Mildred's justified anger can touch the wrong people. Sometimes she sees this. 

Often disturbing, occasionally humorous and always intense, this film is something you'll remember for a while. Clarke Peters, Abbie Cornish, and Caleb Landry Jones provide solid support. The camerawork always feels very natural and realistic.  Again, McDormand really knocks the ball out of the park with this role. It's miles apart from her work in Fargo but the film is just as good. Mildred IS a force of nature but is also someone who feels she has no choice. She does have a softer side but does her best to hide it.
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