Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Movie Man Jackson

There is no one-size-fits-all method for dealing with grief. But for Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), she would appear to be in the stages of anger/depression. It’s been roughly seven months since she lost her daughter, a victim of a rape murder. Believing that her town and the local law enforcement is doing nothing to solve the crime, she decides to bring heavy attention to the tragedy by buying Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that say blunt things like “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, and “How come, Chief Willoughby?

The salvo has been launched, rattling the debilitating-in-health the Chief (Woody Harrelson), and the anger-filled officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). But instead of building awareness and inspiring action, Mildred’s actions seem to drive most, if not all, of the townsfolk against her. Is this case ever going to solved, or will in-town fighting prove to be a hindrance in cooperation?

This is nothing new, but every now and then there’s really a film that I can mull over for a while, re-watch again, and still struggle to gather how exactly I feel about it. The latest one to make yours truly feel this way is Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, both a drama and black comedy that maybe doesn’t coalesce as intended, but features some great cast work and overall unpredictability.

Though there’s a mystery aspect at play in the film with who killed Mildred’s daughter, that aspect is the least of writer/director McDonough’s (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges) concerns; in fact, it only appears in earnest during the middle and the end. The effects of it on various individuals in Ebbing and how they deal with it are the core of TBOEM, whether by anger, apathy, sadness, or some combination. In short, what McDonagh has concocted here is a character study of sorts with two, arguably three, main characters. The level of enjoyment one garners from Three Billboards will likely come down to how much one enjoys spending time with these characters.

On the nobility side of things, these characters are, undoubtedly, the worst of the worst seen in the entire 2017 year. There’s something undoubtedly captivating, cool, and ballsy about this. Not to mention funny, as there are a few scenes and moments that register high on the dark humor scale. The characters’ general lack of civility can be humorous, but is also a bit of a double-edged sword, mainly later on in the movie.

As the movie transitions more into drama and full-on character redemption, it becomes hard to forget the nastiness that McDonagh wasted no time in going deep into at the beginning. A soliloquy in the form of letters do serve to give some solid context, but it doesn’t absolve all sins, making the arcs feel unearned. Above all, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems to struggle with wanting to be a realistic look at small-town Midwest life in the ups and downs in 2017 and an over-the-top dark romp, never completely balancing the two. The dialogue can be shocking, not in a “Wow, that was very mean” way, but in more of a “Would any sane person really talk like that?” way. A line in a flashback in which Mildred states that she hopes her daughter gets raped is a prime example. Instances like this and even the idea of an Australian beauty such as Abbie Cornish (in full Aussie natural accent!) being married to Harrison’s basic town sheriff in boonie Ebbing makes for an oddity that is neither funny nor purpose-serving to the story.

There are aforementioned issues, but a talented cast keeps things afloat. Supporting characters played by Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, and Abbie Cornish are more afterthoughts, though contribute steady performances. The movie belongs to Harrelson, Rockwell, and McDormand. At risk of being the forgotten man, Harrelson is truly the fulcrum of much of the movie, carrying it in a sense. But, it’s Rockwell and McDormand who are getting most of the praise and deserving so. Rockwell has a magnetic presence even when covered in complete dirt and slime, and McDormand carries a dogged persona from her talk to her walk and even the way her face seems to carry the same “tired with everything” feeling throughout. I’m totally underselling her work; she’s super impressive in this movie.

A game cast and some surprising moments make Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at least worth a viewing stop in this boonie town. An extended stay? Depends on one’s tolerance for its inhabitants.

C+

Photo credits go to cinemavine.com, westword.com, and baltimoreblack.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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American Made: Movie Man Jackson

Stuff is only illegal if you get caught doing it. Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) makes his living as a TWA pilot in the late 1970’s, raising a family along with wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Always something of a free spirit, Barry’s one of the best in the world but deep down desires more.

Enter Monty Schaefer (Domhnall Gleason), a CIA agent who offers Seal the opportunity to fill that wild spirit void—and to make solid coin—by taking airborne pictures of Central America for reconnaissance purposes. It doesn’t take long for Seal to attract the attention of the locals, particularly the powerful Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Mejia), who quickly approach Seal and ask him to smuggle their product into the U.S. With the CIA looking the other way, Barry is allowed to live large while increasingly taking on more improbable and dangerous missions.

There’s always those few movies that come out around the fall movie season that feel more like light summer fare. Director Doug Liman’s (Edge of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity) latest in American Made is one of those movies. Despite the traditionally dark and gritty treatment the subject matter often generates in cinema, Liman and star Tom Cruise go the other way, opting for a telling that is breezier and fun—if empty.

Honestly, the term “movie” barely fits American Made. That’s not a complete negative or indictment as some of it is intentional. Liman goes for a documentary-esque approach in even the most elementary of scenes, and the narrative framing relies on voiceover from Cruise done through grainy videotape to spur the on-screen events forward and add the occasional necessary exposition. It works solidly enough, the ol’ “style over substance” approach.

Emphasis on style. Because, American Made has little in the way of meat to chew on. Even compared to similar-minded, relatively light films based on unbelievable and/or embellished real-life individuals in War Dogs and The Wolf of Wall Street, American Made kind of makes those films look like thought-provoking works. Perhaps it’s due to the telling of the story, which comes off as a series of increasingly insane events stitched and put together rather than real story cohesion. No real pronounced act structure exists; the time frame of the events will often jump years ahead without warning. Maybe it’s just representative of it’s whimsical main character, a dude living for the thrills without thought given to anything else.

Sometimes being a mega-star is a bad thing that renders a viewing audience unable to distinguish the star from the part they’re playing. This is one of the reasons The Mummy 2017, starring mega-star Tom Cruise, failed. Whereas some roles and films benefit from a lesser name, others depend on it.

Resembling in no way, shape, or form Barry Seal, it doesn’t matter much because Tom Cruise gets across Doug Liman’s vision of him. It’s hard to see many deliver the charisma, swagger, and “don’t go away because you might miss something outrageous” feeling Tom does here. Seal’s a guy with questionable morals at best, yet hard to despise significantly. Obviously, he’s not the only performer that appears in American Made; Domhnall Gleason and Sarah Wright are perfectly fine, but they’re definitively overshadowed by Cruise. Love or hate him, the man still has the undeniable “it” factor.

Firmly in the group of biopics made to entertain first and educate second (if at all), American Made is a middling romp, but a romp raised in quality by Cruise.

C+

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, laineygossip.com, and gq.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson