Saturday, July 18, 2020

In Lieu Of A Hook- In Defense Of One Woman Vigilantism-Frances McDormand’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017)-A Film Review

In Lieu Of A Hook- In Defense Of One Woman Vigilantism-Frances McDormand’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Laura Perkins

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, 2017 

I frankly don’t know what to make of this film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which I do know rightfully won Oscars for two of the actors in this effort. One for the righteous Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes and the other as supporting actor Sam Rockwell as Jason Dixon. My quandary though is about what the cluster of themes are supposed to represent. What that means in “film speak,” in what I mentioned in one recent film review piggy-backing off of long time film critic and my longtime companion, Sam Lowell, is that I don’t have a “hook,” something to turn this review on. Sam’s safety valve suggestion which mainly is good for older films, black and white films from the 1940s and 1950s which he made his reputation on, wrote what many until recently anyway considered the definite classic on the genre, is to take on the “American slice of life” aspect when all else fails or you are stuck.

I am not sure though in this case this film tells us much about contemporary America, at least anything that you can put a hook into. A suggestion that this film is the current classically fashionable “fight” between the Eastern intelligentsia and the redneck backwoods “good old boys and girls” who sense of justice and political correctness are worlds apart seems snarky. A cinematic replay of the 2016 American presidential campaign, interfered with or not, doesn’t put this round peg in the square. Moreover, the way the whole political correctness aspects play out makes me believe (and Sam too when I asked for candid and serious advice) that the producers have missed out on the Occupy Movement, more importantly what #Me Too stands for, and most decisive of all is that it is clueless about race, about what Black Lives Matter which after all started in real Ferguson, Missouri and either they didn’t hear the news or were more comfortable with stale old clichés about the matter. I make no pretense to have the pulse of the racial question right in this country but if I knew that when I was making a film like this I would not flaunt that ignorance straight up.

Maybe it is best to lay out the storyline and let the emotions wrought by the situation stand in for a hook. I don’t like the idea but I also don’t like the aforementioned slice of life pitch either. Mildred, played by McDormand, is the bereft mother of a raped and murdered teenage daughter by person, or persons unknown. Also in the mix the ditched wife of a wife-beater husband and devotee of intergenerational sex having copped a holy goof nineteen- year old girlfriend after ditching Mildred in a fit of his 27th mid-life crisis. Mildred is far from over the grief of losing that daughter and the local police’s seeming readiness to throw the case deep into in the cold files. Down the road from her house are the three billboards of the rather inelegant and unfashionable film title and she decides to move things off of dead center by renting the long unused signs to shame/egg on/belittle the efforts to find her daughter’s murderer.

Needless to say the cops, especially top cop Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, and one of his young deputies, a wacko cop, Jason Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell did not like this aspersion on their commitment to solving this or any crime. The townspeople in general back them up on this and so stoic and determined Mildred stands essentially alone in seeking some rough justice in this wicked old world for her beloved and mourned daughter. To add fuel to the fire (no pun as will be mentioned shortly) Willoughby is dying of cancer and before the whole deal had gone down commits suicide which some contend Mildred’s seemingly unwarranted campaign had a hand in. With the top cop’s death Jason goes into overdrive first crashing and trashing everything in sight and then when he is fired by the new sheriff in town, a black man no less, he get’s “religion”  about what a cop is supposed to, and not supposed to do.

Meanwhile Mildred still on a rampage turns into a one woman guerilla unit firebombing the police headquarters not knowing that Jason was inside. He got out but had severe burns over a good part of his body. Guys like Jason though never get a break, whether the deserve one or not, and when he does try to solve the case after hearing a random bar conversation which might be related to the daughter’s murder and collects DNA surreptitiously from the suspect it turns out there was no match. Which leaves Mildred and Jason now confederates on that so-called suspect’s trail as over-the-top vigilantes.

See what I mean about where the hook is despite the two excellent acting jobs. In the end though maybe the query of the title of this review can stand in-in defense of one woman vigilantism. Hope that will do.        

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