Monday, December 18, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Here's one that comes with a lot of buzz—I've been hearing about it all year, and it's just thick with stars and familiar faces: Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Sam Rockwell, and more, but above all Frances McDormand, with a very big role as Mildred Hayes of Ebbing, Missouri, whose daughter was raped and killed seven months before the action of this movie. The case is still open, the perpetrator still at large, and Mildred suspects the police are not really working it. She takes matters into her own hands and finds a way to buy advertising space on [the title], taunting the chief of police by name for the lack of results. The town, especially the police, do not react well. Three Billboards was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who also wrote and directed In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. Like the first (I haven't seen the second), Three Billboards comes with a low-grade if somewhat smoother Guy Ritchie affect. Tension is heavy around here. The confrontations are harsh, the violence unexpected and shocking, and plenty of people are just plain reprehensible. You can't always make out what they're saying either, the backwoods accents are so thick. I believe this movie has its heart in the right place, much like Paul Haggis's Crash 13 years ago, but it's unfortunately nearly as simple and easy about dispensing redemption like lotion from a tube. The plot has many unlikely turns, and if it's trying to be a movie for the Trump era—a quick internet search did not turn up when it was actually written and filmed—it's trying too hard. Or it doesn't know what it's talking about. Or both. A lot of these scenes and setups betray only a certain loathing for the caricatures populating the small, rural, impoverished Missouri town—loathing for red-state America, not to put too fine a point on it. Mildred and her ex-husband (Hawkes) are rushed sketches of the economically left-behind white working class who now work on opioid problems and vote DJT, if they vote. The police, especially Dixon (Rockwell), are barely above the level of brutes—real knuckle-draggers. I suspect this movie is infuriating people in Missouri, but in fairness, the people in Missouri have also been infuriating the rest of us for a few years, between Todd Akin and Michael Brown. Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) is the exception—a good old boy but worldly and wise like Yoda, and apparently with definite opinions about Oscar Wilde. So what we end up with is a feel-good movie about American bigotry and divided America that nonetheless is packed with some very sharp scenes and performances. Worth seeing—you might even find it adding up more than me.

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