Monday, 15 January 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

I HOPE that anyone who knows me, even a little bit, knows that I am never a contrarian just for the sake of stirring the pot or getting people into a state of anger. In fact, I try as often as I can to ignore the extreme negatives and positives you can find everywhere on the internet and continue to just form my own opinion about movies, which is the way everyone should do it (then you can have more fun later discussing things with those who agree, and those who don't).

So I didn't make the decision lightly to label the much-loved Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri the worst film directed by either of the McDonagh brothers. You have to remember two things here. First of all, I am one of the few people who really enjoyed War On Everyone. Second, I am not saying this is a terrible film. It's still better than Transformers: The Last Knight, for example. Just not by that much.

The plot revolves around Frances McDormand's character, Mildred. She has been waiting too long to get any justice after her daughter was raped and murdered. So she decides to use three billboards situated on a fairly quiet road to question the work ethic of Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). This upsets Willoughby and his staff (particularly the dim and abusive Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell), it upsets Mildred's son (Lucas Hedges), and it starts to turn the town against Mildred as they fail to understand why she would make such a statement.

The performances in this film are, for the most part, pretty great. McDormand does brilliant work, Rockwell is as great as ever, and Harrelson does well (when he isn't delivering lines in voiceover like he's reading the back of a packet of Coco Pops). Caleb Landry Jones is also very good, playing the lad responsible for leasing out the billboard space, Hedges is excellent as the teenage son watching his mother make a stand he doesn't see as being of any use, Peter Dinklage is a lot of fun as someone hoping to take Mildred out on a date, and John Hawkes is an a-grade asshole. The main weakness in the film is Abbie Cornish, who gives what feels like a half-hearted performance, hampered by the fact that she is also given the worst of the dialogue in the film and just seems far too young for her character (she plays the wife of Harrelson's character).

Direction is good enough, with McDonagh really pulling out the stops in a couple of moments that hammer home (almost literally) some of the damage that characters are willing to inflict upon one another, and there's definitely an interesting theme being clumsily explored here, but it's all almost undone by the script, surprisingly enough. While there are gems here, especially in the scenes that have McDormand interacting directly with the local law enforcement, there are also lines that drop in the middle of scenes like anvils looking for a Wile E. Coyote to squash into an accordion shape. And that's just individual lines I am talking about (poor Cornish, I felt genuinely sorry for a couple of the lines that she had to deliver, which could have only been made a bit less cringeworthy if McDonagh had given her any decent characterisation beforehand). As the film starts to develop in the overlong second half, everything starts to become more heavy-handed and also a bit, well, implausible and ridiculous. What began as a small, impactful, drama turns into something that feels unsure of how far it wants to take things, and in what direction it wants to go. Yes, this is in line with the main characters but it doesn't feel deliberate or well thought out. It feels careless, displaced, and even rather immature.

There's enough here to enjoy, and I feel sorry for those trying to dismiss the movie as something it isn't (I can't say any more because of spoilers), and I still encourage people to support the McDonagh brothers ahead of so many other writers and directors who never try to engage and challenge their audience, but this didn't work half as well for me as it seems to have worked for so many others.


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