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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 25, 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Movie Review: Tries To Balance Intense Drama With Moments Of Dark Comedy And Offbeat Humor, But Not Successful All The Time

THESE ARE the messages written across the giant billboards referred to in the title of the Oscar-nominated movie, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: “Raped While Dying”, “And Still No Arrests”, “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” This is the third movie of Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh, best known for the acclaimed comedy-drama, “In Bruges”.

“Three Billboards” has just won the best picture plum in the British academy awards, with its star, Frances McDormand, winning as best actress. She plays Mildred Hayes, a divorced mom whose daughter was raped and killed seven months ago. Frustrated and impatient with the poor work of the police who has yet to find a suspect, she resorts to an unconventional way of seeking justice: by putting up the billboards on the outskirts of their town to prick the conscience of the cops, particularly local Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

Her action is quick to draw attention from various quarters since Willoughby is well loved by their
community. As a priest tells her, while the people sympathize with her plight 100%, they don’t like her action as it besmirches the reputation of a good man.

A cop working for Willoughby, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a racist who’s prone to violent behavior, threatens her, but she’s not about to be cowed by him or anyone else. Mildred and Jason actually represent the two political extremes in the situation, the left and the right, with the basically morally upright Willoughby in the middle. And the irony of it all is that Mildred and Jason would eventually end up as allies.

Both of them are actually damaged persons, for widely different reasons. Mildred is dumped by her abusive husband for a teenage girl and she also has deep guilt feelings about what happened to her daughter since she actually wished that something bad would befall on her on the day that she was murdered. Jason, in turn, is a morally twisted racist, at his age still a helpless mama’s boy and has serious masculinity issues.

At the Golden Globes, Frances as the dour and unsmiling heroine won the best drama actress while Sam won as best supporting actor. In the Oscars, they’re both nominated again, along with Harrelson for best supporting actor as the sheriff, whose story is well developed aside from Frances and Sam’s.

Just like “In Bruges” with Colin Farrell, “Three Billboards” is also more like a dramedy, balancing intense drama with moments of dark comedy and offbeat humor reminiscent of the type that the Coen
Brothers do. The characters are oddballs behaving irrationally. If you’d examine it closely, some scenes really happen only in the movies, like Frances hurling Molotov cocktails to burn down the police station without anyone noticing her at all.

In another scene, she’s seen accosting two high school teenagers in plain view of other students and parents. And no one stops her and she walks back to her car just like that? This is meant to be a crowd pleaser but it comes out quite unbelievable.

Then there’s the psychopathic Jason behaving badly without anyone challenging him for most part of the movie. In one scene, he walks across the street from their precinct, barges into the office of the man who helped Frances put up the billboards to beat him up mercilessly, then throws him out from the second floor of the office down into the street, all in broad daylight. Then, suddenly, he gets redemption in the end.

Even the local dentist behaves like a sadistic fool, and it’s good he gets the comeuppance he deserves from Frances. The suspected rapist terrorizes Frances with impunity. Woody has a dark tragic secret that will eventually be revealed. And there’s even a midget, Peter Dinklage of “Game of Thrones”, who dates Frances for dinner but has no real concrete purpose in the film except for “unano” jokes to be included in the script.

Some of the actors are actually underused, like Lucas Hedges (so good in “Manchester by the Sea” and “Lady Bird”) as Frances’ son, and even Abbie Cornish as Woody’s wife. If you think that the film is somehow a mystery or a whodunit, you’d also be mistaken as the crime is not resolved at all. But it’s just as well since, in real life, not every criminal case really gets a definite resolution. And not every much praised, award-winning film is necessarily without any flaws.