Screen Savor: Count to three

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Frances McDormand and Peter Dinklage in the film THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. Photo by Merrick Morton. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved.

In writer/director Martin McDonagh’s Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Fox Searchlight), grieving, coveralls-wearing mother Mildred (Francis McDormand) will do almost anything to find the person who abducted, raped and murdered her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) seven months earlier. Renting three weathered billboards, on a foggy stretch of road, that haven’t been updated since1986 becomes her latest attention-grabbing plan.

At the Ebbing Advertising Company, Mildred meets with Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), the small town’s resident gay man, and pays him $5,000 for the first month.
The red billboards with black typeface read: “Raped While Dying”, “And Still No Arrests?” and “How Come Chief Willoughby?”. Bill (Woody Harrelson), the chief in question, is well-aware that Angela’s brutal murder case remains unsolved. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped searching for answers. In addition to contending with Mildred, Bill, happily married to Anne (Abbie Cornish) and the father of two young daughters, has pancreatic cancer. He also has to deal with violent, racist and homophobic Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell).

Mildred’s actions also impact others in her immediate orbit. Her high school student son Robbie (Lucas Hedges from “Manchester By the Sea” and “Lady Bird”) is also still grieving for his sister and is as supportive of his mother as he can be. Ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes), an ex-cop known for his vicious temper and drinking problem, is enraged at Mildred. Denise (Amanda Warren), Mildred’s co-worker at the town’s gift shop, also gets dragged in to the situation.
The thing that sets “Three Billboards…” apart from other films about grieving parents looking for answers, such as recent Golden Globe winner “In The Fade”, as well as “Rabbit Hole” and “Ordinary People”, is the way that peripheral characters such as Bill, Dixon and even Red become as essential as Mildred. The subplots involving Bill’s suicide and subsequent gift to Mildred, Dixon’s relationship with his crazy mother (Sandy Martin), as well as his barroom encounter with the suspected rapist, and Red’s hospital room encounter with Dixon feel as necessary to the story as anything involving Mildred herself.

Unfortunately, “Three Billboards…” completely falls apart in its final few minutes. Mildred and Dixon teaming up together feels as if McDonough, an award-winning playwright, didn’t know how to end the movie. Ultimately, this is why “Three Billboards…” doesn’t actually deserve to win a Best Picture Oscar. Rating: B+

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