Sunday, April 08, 2018

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri: Bold, Deep, and Dark. But See It!

Movie Review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Version: Library borrow

It's bold, it's deep, and it's dark. That's Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, the story of about Mildred Hayes, a mother so obsessed by grief with the unsolved brutal death of her daughter, she will go to any length to resolve it. But it's not the only thing she is obsessed over.

Mildred is driven to avenge any slight, any abuse, anyone who gets in her way, including the local police. Months have passed since the murder and no one has been arrested. Mildred decides it's time to motivate the police to take action, so she buys three billboards near town to shame them to do more. But her action sets into motion a series of actions by others that sets the town afire. What ensues is a set of one-up battles between Mildred and many of the town's most notable figures. Caught in the middle are her son, still grieving the loss of his sister, the owner of the ad agency Mildred hired to put up the billboards, Mildred's boss, and the town's sheriff, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Few are left unscathed.

This is an amazing film. Amazing for its brutality, for one thing -- this isn't a film for youngsters! Amazing for its language -- this isn't a film for the language sensitive. Amazing for the depth of characters. Amazing for its depth of plot and conflict. With the cast, I doubt I need to tell you, it's also amazing for its acting.

Mildred is played by Oscar winner Frances McDormand, who won the award again in 2018 for this very role. She displays such resilience as an abuse survivor and the grieving mother of a raped-while-dying daughter with whom the night before her death she'd had an ugly fight, yet someone who is steel-strong in a battle to the end to avenge all wrongs. Sheriff Willoughby is played by Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson. He often plays villains or troubled characters, but in Three Billboards he puts in a fine performance as a sympathetic sheriff sorry that he's unable to catch the bad guy yet the target of the billboards. Character actor Sam Rockwell won the 2018 Oscar for his portrayal of deputy Dixon, who is an uneducated bigot and after-work drunk that terrorizes the town but in the end learns to soften his heart. Lucas Hedges plays Mildred's son Robbie, who pays for Mildred's acts of anger by the actions of others in the community and by having to face the billboards, which stand along the road outside their home. Peter Dinklage has a minor part as James, who witnesses a lot of the destructive things Mildred does in retaliation but has a soft spot in his heart for her, protecting her from the consequences. In all, this is an exceptional cast playing out an exceptional script with a well laid out plot with so much conflict and action, there's barely room for resolution. In fact, by the end of the film, you're going to want a sequel to see how the story actually ends. Don't say I didn't warn you!

If it weren't for all the conflict and action, I would tell you this is a deeply character-driven film. But in the end, the conflict and plot win out over characterization, as strong as character development is. And the strongest character by far is Mildred, who won't take no for an answer and won't let any attack go unanswered. There's a restaurant scene in which Mildred's abusive ex-husband walks up to taunt her for dating James, who is a dwarf. He really lays it on heavy. Then Mildred and James have a fight and James tells her off and leaves. Mildred has had it with her husband, who is sitting at a table with his 19 year old girl friend, and she grabs the left over bottle of wine from her own table holding the bottle like a club and you swear she's going to swipe that across her husband's ugly smirking face -- and he looks like he thinks so, too, as she walks up. But Mildred tells her husband to take care of the girl (you can see in her eyes she is thinking, "like you didn't take care of me or our daughter") and sets the bottle on the table as a gift. It's a wonderfully dramatic yet sensitive scene, considering all that we have seen earlier in the film.

For all the violence and conflict in the film, the characters soften and begin to regret their actions. And you are left wondering how this will all resolve itself. In a sense, this is a story about redemption and the two characters most in need of redemption -- Mildred and Dixon -- ride off seeking revenge yet ponder if that will really come in the end. 

In addition to the two acting Oscar awards, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri was nominated for a host or other Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson), Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing. It deserved every one of those nominations. I'm not a fan of gratuitous foul language (there's plenty of that here) or gratuitous violence (there was a ton of violence), but I am a fan of films of depth and Three Billboards had plenty of that. If you can take the violence and language, by all means see this film!

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