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« TIFF: "Kings" and "I, Tonya" | Main | First Look: Elizabeth Debicki as Virginia Woolf »
Friday
Sep152017

TIFF: McDormand Dominates in "Three Billboards..."

by Chris Feil

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri unfolds in typical fashion for writer/director Martin McDonagh: unspeakable violence provides a backdrop to profanity of everyday people. Here McDonagh provides us one of his most righteous heroes in Mildred Hayes, a mother grieving the brutal murder of her daughter and the local police’s inability to bring justice. Verbal fireworks and bloody consequence is to be expected.

The film is a somewhat mixed bag of risky McDonagh material, the politics of the piece getting somewhat muddled by his trademark unPC hilarity. While the author’s work often presents a tricky relationship between bitter honesty and dark humor, here the two almost compete - it’s not a hypocritical film, but the coherence of thought is not fully synced. But in Missouri his writing is undercut with complicated feeling more than ever before, musing on the state of a bruised and systemically unjust middle America.

McDormand moves with a biblical rage, less unhinged in her wrath than aggressively grinding those hinges to their full creaky rusted abrasiveness. It’s not just that her verbal dispatching of Billboards’ indifferent men is quote and gif ready (oh, but there will be plenty of that), but Mildred taps into growing cultural outrage that makes McDormand’s work all the more satisfying. She is exhaustive, exhausted, and exhausting; symbolizing a monolithic anger and giving a performance equally as imposing.

And yet she remains quite torturously human. McDonagh’s work often provides his actors with moments of fleeting, ironic humanity amid his perverse satires, but McDormand holds both of the film’s tragicomic elements in equal measure. It has been the best performance I saw at TIFF and the year thus far.

The rest of the ensemble is filled with lively work from the likes of Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, and Lucas Hedges. (Yes the film is essentially a man’s world before McDormand eviscerates them all.) Also a standout is Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon, Mildred’s foremost adversary and a quintessential McDonagh dipshit. His regretful delivery of Dixon’s shortcomings does much to humanize a fairly contrived arc that rushes to redeem him. His chemistry with McDormand is one of the most subtly layered pairings in McDonagh’s stacked history, reaching for complexity even as the script asked for easy transitions or base laughter.

Ultimately a film about the limits of compassion when it challenges cultural, political, and personal allegiance, Three Billboards is dense and likely divisive. In its caustic attitude, there is also a more sober summation about human nature that’s somewhat brave in its evasiveness of conclusive plotting. Perhaps more admirable in what it attempts to discuss than how it discusses it, the film is likely to inspire even more interesting conversation in the audience - it almost begs for debate and reassessment.

Grade: B- (Frances McDormand: A)

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Reader Comments (12)

Everytime i see a Trailer all i'm left thinking is Marge sure got pissed off.

September 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

This is probably the film I'm most excited to see in the final months of 2017, so I'm actually glad of your lukewarm letter grade since I anticipate high ratings/reviews elsewhere and the impossible heights that those can raise expectations to really threaten to put our most anticipated movies at a terrible disadvantage right off the bat.

September 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDevin D

I can't believe she's going to secure herself the elusive second nod in best actress. With a count of five and two of those nods being leading she joins Gene Hackman. And if she collects a fourth supporting nod down the road Maggie Smith.

September 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

3rtful can you explain,your post doesn't make it clear what club she joins with Hackman and Smith.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

markgordonuk

Hackman has five nominations. Three for supporting and two for lead, while McDormand has three in supporting and one in lead. If she gets her likely fifth nod then she'll match him.

Smith has six nods (4-supp/2-lead) so McDormand would need an another supporting nod in the future to tie with her.

Now why 3rtful brings this all up is beyond me (s/he seems like an Oscar historian). The wins don't even match since Smith and Hackman have additional Oscar wins in supporting which McDormand doesn't.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJess

That's real bit of trivia thanks 3rtful.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

McDormand seems to be sort of playing herself here- wonder if that will attract Oscar voters enough over more prestige possibilities.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

@,Jamie

I agree.... /3,rtful always spouts off this type of data?!?

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenternatalie

"McDormand seems to be sort of playing herself here- wonder if that will attract Oscar voters enough over more prestige possibilities."

Many movie stars have a persona and adapt it to the role, McDormand included. It hasn't proven to inhibit Oscar campaigns, since any number of Oscar nominees and winners - including last year's Best Actress winner, and arguably, the Best Supporting Actress winner as well - have proved successful with this technique. Given that the best actors do this - McDormand is a triple crown winner with an MFA from Yale - I don't see how this is a matter of "prestige."

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Suzanne- perhaps I should have said "a crowded field for Best Actress" - just think we have seen this type of character played by her before. I guess we shall see.....

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

The film just won the People's Choice Award at TIFF, an annual Oscar bellwether, so if anything, people have been underestimating it in their Oscar predictions. If festival goers like it that much, it has to be taken seriously as a contender for Best Picture nod.

Jamie, I know you are a huge Streep fan. I'm sure she'll get nominated. But four other actresses will, too.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Suzanne- sure. I am not worried about her taking Streep’s spot.

September 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

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