Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Frances McDormand demands answers in this Oscar-nominated film.

(2017) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones, Zeljko Ivanek, Lucas Hedges, Kerry Condon, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Peer Dinklage, Amanda Warren, John Hawkes, Clarke Peters, Kathryn Newton, Sandy Martin, Jerry Winsett, Samara Weaving, Christopher Berry, Malaya Rivera Drew. Directed by Martin McDonagh

 

There is nothing that compares to the pain of a parent whose child has been murdered. It is the unthinkable, the unimaginable – what every parent has nightmares about. Some unlucky parents don’t have to imagine though.

Mildred (McDormand) is one of those. Nine months have passed since her daughter Angela was raped and then set on fire by some sadistic freak. No progress whatsoever has been made in finding her killer. To make things worse, the spot where her daughter spent her last tortured minutes was on the site of three dilapidated billboards near enough to Mildred’s house that she must drive past them every time she leaves the house, where she can see the burn mark where her daughter gasped her last.

Her fury has threatened to consume her. She has to do something, anything to help her little girl get justice. So she marches into the ad agency that services the billboards and plops down five thousand bucks for the first month of a year-long rental. The three billboards are painted red with copy in big black letters: RAPED AND KILLED, AND STILL NO ARRESTS? and finally HOW COME CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?

The billboards have immediate and profound effect. Deputy Dixon (Rockwell), a drunken and violent racist creep who’d much rather be arresting black folks, is the first to see the messages. He informs Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) who goes ballistic but after asking Mildred politely to remove the billboards, he confesses that he has pancreatic cancer and he doesn’t want his family to have to deal with another unpleasant thing.

It turns out Willoughby is actually a decent sort who is trying his damndest to solve the case but there simply isn’t enough evidence. Dixon, who owes a lot to the chief is much more direct; he goes after Red Welby (Jones) who runs the ad agency and gives him a terrifying beating. Things begin to escalate in the war between the cops and Mildred; her surviving son Robbie (Hedges) is caught in the crossfire. Yet all is not what it seems to be in Ebbing, Missouri.

On the surface it seems like a very cut and dried story but as the movie unspools you quickly realize you’re seeing a work of uncommon depth and complexity. While it appears that there are some villainous characters in the story, there are in fact none. Even Dixon ends up finding some sort of redemption although it is hard to justify his previous behavior.

The acting in this movie is nothing short of astonishing. Three cast members received Oscar nominations – McDormand, Rockwell and Harrelson – and there easily could have been more. While it is McDormand’s movie, it is not hers alone. Watching her tightly controlled rage which from time to time her humanity breaks through is simply a clinic. We eventually find out that Mildred’s pain isn’t just because of the incompetence of the police; her last interaction with Angela literally sent her on the road to her fatal encounter. It’s some powerful stuff and shows how a great actress can take a well-written character and create a classic performance. If the competition for Best Actress weren’t so stiff this year she might well be a shoo-in. Harrelson also plays a decent sort with rough edges who is facing the end of his life and not necessarily with the dignity he would like to. Rockwell, who won a Golden Globe, may give the best performance of all as the loutish Dixon who literally comes through the fire a changed man.

It is hard to believe this is McDonagh’s third feature and as good as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are, this is by far the best of the three. His background as a playwright shines through more in the writing than in the direction which is not stage-y in the least. However, the sense that the town is much smaller than it appears to be lingers throughout.

I would have liked to have seen less contrivance in some of the events; some things happen that appear to happen only because the plot requires them to. There is also a bit of a lull in the middle where it feels that the movie is hitting a plateau, but the ending is absolutely extraordinary. Making a great ending to a movie is something of a lost art but McDonagh seems to have mastered it.

Nearly all of the characters are dealing with some sort of pain, either physical or emotional. The movie is about that true but it is also about forgiveness, redemption and humanity in the face of intolerable grief. While this isn’t a perfect movie, it had the potential to be and if the second act had been a little better, this might have gotten a higher rating. Still, it stands out in a year of really great independent films as one that is going to be in our hearts and minds for a long time to come.

REASONS TO GO: The acting is Oscar-worthy throughout the cast. The characters are all riddled with pain in one way or another. The ending of the film is sublime.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the events feel a little bit contrived. The film loses momentum in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of violence, plenty of profanity and some brief sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature film directed by McDonagh that didn’t feature Colin Farrell in a lead role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 88/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fargo
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
In the Shadow of Iris

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New Releases for the Week of November 24, 2017


COCO

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Gabriel Iglesias, Edward James Olmos. Directed by Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich

A young Mexican boy is obsessed with music but had the bad luck to be born into a family that didn’t care much for song and frivolity. A devotee of a recently deceased troubadour, he is accidentally sent to the Land of the Dead and must work out the mystery of why his family hates music so much before he can return to the Land of the Living.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements)

Last Flag Flying

(Amazon/Lionsgate) Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell, J. Quinton Johnson. Three ex-Marines who served together in Vietnam come together for one last mission; to bury the son of one of them who was killed in Iraq. This is the latest from director Richard Linklater.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for strong language throughout including some sexual references)

The Man Who Invented Christmas

(Bleecker Street) Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow. One of the great traditions of Christmas is the beloved novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. He wrote it at a time in his life where he was surrounded by tribulations but where did these ideas – a Christmas ghost story, after all – come from? Look for the review for this tomorrow.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some mild language)

Novitiate

(Sony Classics) Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron. A young woman in the early 1960s gets swept up by the idea of becoming a nun and so enters a convent just at a time when sweeping changes were overtaking the Catholic Church. You can check out my review for the film here.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for language, some sexuality and nudity)

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

(Columbia) Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Tony Plana. A former activist turned lawyer finds himself confronted with a crisis of conscience. Passed by and struggling to survive, a series of events leads him to consider extreme action.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Legal Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some violence)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

(Fox Searchlight) Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones. When the police fail to discover the identity of the killer of a young woman, the victim’s mother frustrated by the lack of progress puts up three billboards near her home castigating the authorities for their inability to solve the crime. Her actions sharply divide the community in this latest darkly comic drama from Irish director Martin McDonagh.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a video feature here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Barnstorm Theater, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Balakrishnudu
Mental Madhilo

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Abracadabra
The King’s Choice
Mental Madhilo

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Mental Madhilo

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Balakrishnudu
Faces Places
Hey, Pillagada
Mental Madhilo

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Coco
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Novitiate
Roman Israel, Esq.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri