Monday, December 11, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

There are certain aspects of a movie that may seem cliché, but often prove necessary.  For instance, you should probably have a protagonist and an antagonist, each clearly defined.  At least one of the characters should learn something.  There should also be three acts; basically, there should be a setup, a story, and a resolution.  Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri doesn’t seem to follow these rules.

We have a protagonist in Mildred, who rents the titular billboards near her home.  Mildred’s daughter, Anne, was raped and murdered and the case is still unsolved.  Mildred uses the billboards to call out the town’s police chief, Willoughby.  Willoughby visits Mildred and reminds her that the case is cold.  None of the DNA matched anything from any other case.  There were no witnesses.  Without a random confession, the case is stalled.

That’s not enough for Mildred, who wants justice, or at least answers.  She’s committed to keeping the billboards up for a full year, despite not knowing where she’s going to get the money.  (She has enough for the deposit, but it takes an anonymous donation to keep it going for the first month.)  As you might expect, the town turns against her.  She can’t even trust her dentist.

You might ask where this is going.  I’ve seen the entire movie and I’m still asking that question.  Without giving out details, the movie meanders.  There are all sorts of major twists and turns, each taking the movie in a new direction.  We quickly learn that there are no sympathetic characters.  Given enough time, almost everyone seems to prove unlikable.  (There are maybe two exceptions to this observation, and one had very little screen time.)

Part of this is that the characters don’t seem to learn anything.  Mildred has had seven months to process her daughter’s death.  Taking out the billboards seems like the kind of impulsive thing someone might do the first month.  We even have Officer Dixon, who gets fired and is still the same racist person back when he had a job.  There’s no enlightenment.  There’s no new information or big revelation.  The movie ends with nearly every character basically the same person they were when the movie started.

This is one of those movies that I had seen because I have Moviepass.  Had I not seen it, I don’t think I would have seen it.  I’m not even sure I could recommend going if someone else paid for it.  It’s going to take me a while to process it and it might make sense if someone explains it to me.  Absent that, it would take repeated viewings and that’s not going to happen.  It has a rating of 8.5 on IMDb right now, so someone liked the movie.  I’m just not sure I can understand the movie.

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