A Brief History
On November 14, 2017, we take the opportunity to review the new film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that we had the chance to screen last night in a full theater. Briefly, two things stand out about the movie. The first thing, is that the audience enthusiastically clapped at the end. Such applause is always a darn good sign. The other main takeaway from the movie is that the star, Frances McDormand, is almost certain to get a nomination for the Best Actress Oscar. The film has already been released on November 10, 2017 in selected US markets, and will be released in Cleveland and other cities on November 17, 2017.
McDormand plays the role of Mildred, the worn out looking mother of a teenage girl that had been raped and murdered, with no suspect identified by the local police. McDormand, previously a winner of the acting “Triple Crown” (Oscar for Best Actress, Tony Award, and Emmy) is frustrated and totally dissatisfied with the lack of progress into the investigation of her child’s death. Other big name stars in the movie include Woody Harrelson (as the dying, embattled police chief Willoughby), Sam Rockwell (as the sort of anti-hero), Peter Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) and John Hawkes (as Mildred’s ex-husband). These actors turn in their usual great performances, selling each character completely, as do the other cast members.
The title of the movie stems from Mildred renting 3 long unused billboards on a country road to taunt the police into forcing some progress into the rape/murder investigation. This action infuriates the police department and many prominent townsfolk that love and revere the Chief, who coincidentally is dying of cancer. One cop in particular, a drunk, mean spirited goof that should not be wearing a badge, takes the billboards personally and reacts with unprofessional vitriol to the perceived insult.
The cinematography is great. The picture is high definition clear, with no typical movie fuzziness. Direction is great as well, and the dialog is realistic and sometimes so realistic you just have to laugh. The audience laughed at all the right times, even when the subject matter was somewhat dark, a careful blend of heavy and light that worked rather well in the film.
Certain aspects of the movie stretch the observer’s suspension of disbelief, specifically, some of the criminal acts performed during the story would certainly get people arrested on the spot in real life. This nit-picking fact does not seem to matter to the acceptance of the story line and flow of the film, and is the sort of thing that only comes up later when dissecting the movie. The simple fact is, the audience loved the film, confirming previous critical reviews and audience ratings.
In spite of the numerous laughs during the film, the subject matter is dark, with the central event being a young lady raped, murdered, and burned to death. A police chief dying of cancer, a bitter, worn out divorced woman’s futile attempts at achieving justice for her daughter and committing crimes herself in the pursuit of justice, the mean, creepy ex-husband, the teen age son facing negative peer pressure, bumbling cops that are racist and smart alecks to boot, a good-hearted dwarf that is treated as less than a whole person, and the mysterious stranger that seems like some sort of psychopath. Just about everyone in the film has serious hubris to deal with. None of the main characters really come across as particularly good people, so the movie is far from a “feel good” film, and yet, at the end, it almost seems that way!
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 95% approval rating, and already there is rumbling about a Best Film nomination. We enjoyed the film and recommend it for adult and older teenage audiences (due to various “bombs,” such as “N-bombs,” “F-bombs,” and “C-bombs,” as well as such a negative portrayal of police that younger minds may be unduly affected).
NOTE: The rate of murders being solved in the United States is shockingly abysmal, in spite of the impression television and movies often provide, and in spite of technical advances in crime scene investigation. In 2013, the state of Missouri had an unsolved murder rate of 36.7%, ranking 10th worst among the states. (Washington, D.C. was worse than any state, with 56.1% of murders unsolved! The national average for unsolved murders in the US during the 21st Century so far is between 35 and 40%. Thus, the story of Mildred Hayes and her pain at the unsolved death of her daughter is a story played out again and again across the country.
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For more information, please see…
Burwell, Carter. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – OST. Varese Sarabande, 2017. Audio CD.
McDonagh, Martin. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: The Screenplay. Faber & Faber, 2017.