Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Some years I hardly see any of the Oscar contenders because the themes don’t appeal, but this year there is a lot of great work on screen — a feast for film lovers drawn to strong roles for female leads. I enjoyed Victoria and Abdul, which I suspect will garner a nomination for Judi Dench. Melissa Leo deserves a nod for Novitiate, although I question the film’s broad appeal.  Lady Bird, a fresh coming of age story, has two great female leads in Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.

Lucas Hedges, the up and coming young actor who did such fine work in Manchester by the Sea, is in Lady Bird. He’s also in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I like great work by male actors too. 🙂

Three Billboards is my hands down film favorite thus far this year. Frances McDormand, she of Fargo fame, is brilliant in this dark comedic drama centered around the character of Mildred Hayes, the mother of a girl raped and murdered while walking into town.

From Washington Post reviewer Ann Hornaday:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is as dark as they come, a pitch-black, often laceratingly funny look at human nature at its most nasty, brutish and dimwitted. But he anneals the cleansing fire with moments of startling tenderness, using compassion to shock viewers the way other directors wield the dark arts of sex and violence.”

The film is reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor, and indeed, young Red the advertising guy is reading an O’Connor short story as the drama begins. The film is brutally shocking, and yet darkly funny — the same combination O’Connor manages in her work. There is no easy resolution, even though one is suggested near the end. The story isn’t really a crime drama about the dead Angela. It’s about Mildred, her mother, and the focusing power of rage.

McDormand often plays these steely, unsmiling roles; think of her in the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge. Her brilliance is creating enormous emotional range in a character who offers the thinnest wisp of a smile, the merest suggestion of tears, the slightest suggestion of raised voice, who always seems contained even as she’s hurling lit Molotov cocktails through a broken second floor window across the street at the police station.

Don’t miss this one — even if you have to go to some effort to find it. The film played in our independent arts theater, and I don’t know about its wide distribution. But go wherever you must. This is the gem of the year.

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