Friday, November 10, 2017

Movie with Abe: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Released November 10, 2017

Balancing a murder tale with biting comedy is not an easy task, and there are a few filmmakers who can rightfully claim to do it well. Being unintentionally funny is probably more common, but this is an art that requires skill to do justice to the seriousness of its plotline and presenting humorous, human characters at its center. Joel and Ethan Coen are well-known for mastering this in films like “Fargo,” which features a perfect Frances McDormand at its center. Another such director, Martin McDonagh, whose “In Bruges” inhabits that space mesmerizingly, has teamed up with McDormand for a deep dive into brutally comic darkness.

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is a woman with a lot of personality, and the rape and murder of her daughter has made her even less filtered. Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, she commissions three rotting billboards by her home to display a blunt message to Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) that something must be done. Her provocative action makes her a pariah in town, and a target of the aggression of dim-witted cop Dixon (Sam Rockwell). Mildred remains unflappable, determined to have her voice heard and to smack some sense into anyone who isn’t willing to listen.

This is the third feature film from McDonagh and his first to have just one clear lead. A number of the actors in the cast are imports from his second film, “Seven Psychopaths,” and McDonagh is certainly skilled at finding even the smallest roles that are memorable for beloved performers like Kerry Condon and Zeljko Ivanek. This is a role made for McDormand, who effortlessly conveys such disdain for everyone around her and not even a hint of a desire to conform to anyone else’s expectations of her. Harrelson and Rockwell are both equally superb, adding incredible humor while still remaining just barely believable. All three could easily end up with well-deserved Oscar nominations.

The film isn’t quite as formidable as its actors. It’s undeniably entertaining and immensely watchable, full of funny lines and wild moments. But, as a whole, its tone is inconsistent to a fault, unable to follow a clear narrative for which the audience is prepared. Serious developments come out of nowhere and create a dizzying effect. It’s a film full of such energy that it doesn’t need surprises to jolt the audience, and as a result they don’t feel necessary or satisfying. Its ending in particular conveys how plot structure is less important than inventiveness for McDonagh, and while this film is still much more engaging than most, it fails to be resounding in the way it should.


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