Saturday, March 10, 2018

Stubs - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage. Directed by Martin McDonagh. Screenplay by Martin McDonagh. Produced by Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, and Martin McDonagh.  Run Time: 115 minutes. The United Kingdom and the United States. Color. Drama

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a second act looking for a third. I feel like if I wrote this story it would be rejected because of the lousy ending, which leaves off what I would assume was the point of the film was setting up. Without resolution, you’re left dangling at the end wondering what happens next, though not wanting or expecting a sequel. Sad that this is what passes for storytelling these days as the film was both nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture by the Academy Awards.

Three Billboards is more a character study than a great film.

Three Billboards is more of a character study than a complete film. Frances McDormand, no stranger to good acting, plays Mildred Hayes whom, after seven months of no progress on the rape/murder of her daughter, puts up three billboards along a little-used road and gets a lot of attention from the police and the press. Her main target is the Chief of Police William 'Bill' Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), but the real anger comes from Sgt. James Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a cop with a bad reputation and an even worse temper.

Central to the plot is the murder of Mildred’s daughter, Angela (Kathryn Newton). The police have been stymied by a lack of matching DNA to the crime. No one seems to match what they found at the brutal crime scene. But that is not enough for Mildred as she wants the crime solved no matter how expensive it might be.

Her son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges), who also plays one of the love interests in Lady Bird, bears most of the brunt of his mother’s outlandish behavior from the other kids at school. He doesn’t seem as interested in finding the killer as his mother, though he is still somewhat haunted by the events.

But Mildred’s ex, Charlie (John Hawkes), has managed to move on, helped along by his 19-year-old girlfriend, Penelope (Samara Weaving). Charlie’s presence in the film is to chiefly remind Mildred to move on and to rub her nose, so to speak, in his relationship with Penelope. Mildred thinks Penelope literally smells like shit, though it's from her working with animals.

Bill Willoughby is an earnest man, dying of cancer, who feels bad that he can’t solve the murder. The film fleshes him out as a foul-mouthed but loving father and a devoted husband to Anne (Abbie Cornish). Though little is mentioned about Anne, she’s obviously Australian as the actress’ accent is never far away.

Everyone is angry with Mildred, who is always sullen if not vengeful throughout the film. You want to root for her, but she’s not very accessible as a character despite the great acting that McDormand does.

Mildred (Frances McDormand) is the central character in the film.

Without getting into too much of the actual story, there are some really big holes and coincidences that are never resolved. Chief amongst them is the appearance of a Crop-Haired Guy (Brendan Sexton) who not only threatens Mildred but later brags about committing a rape/murder that sounds very similar to Angela’s fate. But it's a dead end of sorts, as DNA that Dixon goes out of his way to collect is not enough to make him a suspect as he was out of the country at the time. His presence is a real head-scratcher as it really does nothing to move the plot to a conclusion but only unifies Mildred and Dixon as they turn into vigilantes and leave on a trip to Idaho to kill him because they think he deserves it. Hard to be sympathetic to anyone in that situation.

Also, Dixon is someone who should be in jail. Not even because he supposedly tortured a black suspect, something we don’t see in the film, but because of what we do see in the film. Upset, he takes out his rage on Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), the man who owns the billboards, by destroying his property, beating him up and throwing him out a second story window. While Red isn’t killed, no charges seem to ever be brought against Dixon, even though it was witnessed by Chief Abercrombie (Clarke Peters). The worst thing that happens to him is that he’s thrown off the force when he should have been thrown in jail instead. I’m not sure what justification there could be as to why he would not have even been arrested for these actions, except that the story needs him. That’s sort of like painting yourself into a corner and then busting out the walls to avoid having to think of a better way.

In spite of its nominations for Picture and Screenplay, the film leaves a lot to be desired. The film does not follow a traditional three-act structure, which might draw praise in some circles but is ultimately unsatisfying when all is said and done.

Both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell give great performances.

Despite the shortcomings of the story, the acting is really very good. All the main characters are well represented by some very good acting. As mentioned before McDormand gives a great performance as Mildred. Woody Harrelson continues to impress as Willoughby and Sam Rockwell is really very good as Dixon. McDormand and Rockwell were both awarded Oscars for their performances. One thing the script does well is to make sure we see all three as three-dimensional characters and the acting makes it worth watching.

No comments:

Post a Comment