Bethlehem Press

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: ‘Billboards’

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 by Paul Willistein in Focus

pwillistein@tnonline.com

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a difficult movie. Uncomfortable as it is, it’s a film that should be seen, and can be viewed as a cautionary tale for all, not only residents of Ebbing, nor billboard companies.

“Three Billboards” got four Golden Globe awards Jan. 7: Drama, Screenplay (Martin McDonagh, who directed), lead actress, drama (Frances McDormand) and supporting actor, drama (Sam Rockwell); received People’s Choice Award at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival; is an American Film Institute Top 10 film of 2017, and a multi-category Oscar nominee contender.

This movie review won’t reveal much of the grueling and gruesome plot because there are so many unpredictable twists and turns on the road to and past the “Three Billboards” (one reason it deseved a screenplay kudo).

Suffice it to state, there are three billboards rented by Mildred (Frances McDormand), who has placed on them huge accusatory statements intended to shame Ebbing Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson in another fine performance) concerning the unsolved rape-murder case of her daughter, Pamela (Kerry Condon). The chief is sympathetic to Mildred’s plight. Ebbing Police Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) becomes Mildred’s nemesis.

Each character has a back story, edgily etched in behavior, dialogue and attitude that will make you want to run screaming from the theater before the film concludes. Mildred has unresolved guilt concerning her daughter. She taunts her son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges). The chief is battling cancer.

Director McDonagh (“Seven Psychopaths,” 2012; Oscar screenplay nominee, “In Bruges,” 2008) struck a nerve, a minefield and hit gold in this midwestern gothic tale of revenge gone horriby awry (can it go any other way?).

McDormand is at her deer-in-headlights best, with nary a smile and a mouth spewing profanities rivaling Eagles NFL players in the Linc field tunnel before the Falcons’ playoff game.

Rockwell portrays a repugnant racist so convincingly the role has been attacked by some.

Excellent in supporting roles: Caleb Landry Jones (Red, billboard advertising agency owner), Darrell Britt-Gibson (Jerome, billboard sign worker), Abbie Cornish (Anne, Willoughby’s wife), Peter Dinklage (James, an Ebbing resident), John Hawkes (Charlie, Mildred’s ex-husband), Samara Weaving (Penelope, Charlie’s wife), Clarke Peters (Abercrombie, the new Ebbing sheriff) and Amanda Warren (Denise, a gift-shop employee).

“Three Billboards” is probably one of the most unpleasant films with the most ulikeable characters and is comparable in its realistic style to “Cop Land” (1997), “Girl Interrupted” (1999), “Misery” (1990) and “The Deer Hunter” (1978) for its dour portrayal of small-town and rural life and its regular folks.

“Three Billboards” seems to be set in the recent past, prior to the smart-phones’ 24-7 internet media. The billboards are metaphor for status, emotional, and politcal rants all the rage (the emphasis is on rage) on facebook, Twitter and social media.

Mildred seems to have taken to heart the quote from a page in French author Eugène Sue’s novel, “Memoirs of Matilda,” which was translated into English by D. G. Osbourne and published in 1846: “And then revenge is very good eaten cold, as the vulgar say.”

Keep your eye on “Three Billboards.” You won’t be rewarded with a Burma Shave sequential jingle on highway signs, but you may discover a redemptive quality. And that’s quite a roadside attraction.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references; Genre: Crime, Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 55 min.; Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was filmed in and around Asheville, N.C.

Box Office, Jan. 12: Freedom High School graduate Dwaye Johnson was like a rock at No. 1, two weeks in a row after two weeks at No. 2, with $27 million, $283.1 million, four weeks, keeping “The Post,” director Steven Spielberg’s yarn about Watergate, at No. 2, with $18.6 million, after wide release, and $23 million, four weeks, and derailing Liam Neeson’s starrer, “The Commuter,” opening at No. 3, with $13.4 million.

4. “Insidious: The Last Key” slipped two places, $12.1 million, $48.3 million, two weeks. 5. “The Greatest Showman” stumbled down one spot, $11.8 million, $94.5 million, four weeks. 6. “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” zoomed down three slots, $11.2 million, $591.5 million. 7. ”Paddington 2,” $10.6 million, opening. 8. “Proud Mary,” $10 million, opening. 9. “Pitch Perfect 3” keyed down four notes, $5.6 million, $94.6 million, four weeks. 10. “Darkest Hour” lit down two notches, $4.5 million, $35.7 million. eight weeks. 16. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” went up four places, $2.3 million, $28.5 million, 10 weeks.

Unreel, Jan. 19: “12 Strong,” R: Nicolai Fuglsig directs Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner, and Elsa Pataky in the War Drama about a Special Forces team in Afghanistan after 9/11.

“Den of Thieves,” R: Christian Gudegast directs Gerard Butler, Jordan Bridges, Pablo Schreiber, and Evan Jones in the Crime Drama about the robbery of a Los Angeles Federal Reserve Bank.

“The Leisure Seeker,” R: Paolo Virzì directs Donald Sutherland, Helen Mirren, Kirsty Mitchell, and Janel Moloney in the Comedy Romance about an elderly couple on the road in a recreational vehicle.

Four Popcorn Boxes of Five Popcorn Boxes