Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017): Hit and Miss (Review)

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Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a blackly comic look at small town mid-America, guilt, parental grief and not a little survivor anger. Frances McDormand (Fargo, Blood Simple) stars as Mildred, the mother of a girl raped and murdered too long ago and the police have made no head way in finding her killer. Sadly, despite much promise and a pretty good script, the result is a little hit and miss.

Woody Harrelson is Chief Willoughby; a beloved local figure of authority and calm. Mildred focuses on the chief with her three billboards of “shame”and accusation. Sam Rockwell is Dixon; one of Willoughby’s deputies, and the man is a shambling mess. 

The plot revolves around Mildred’s overwhelming guilt, which overrides her sense of grief, and it is this guilt that drives her through the entire film. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri almost feels like a modern noir thriller with darkly comic overtones. We side with both Willoughby and Mildred in this tale of attempted retribution and atonement.

Later, we can almost get behind Dixon’s attempt at solving the murder but the man is such a neanderthal that his dreams of becoming a proper detective can really be no more than a pathetic pipe dream. Peter Dinklage has a cameo as the village “dwarf.” (A term that his character tosses out after a disastrous meeting with Mildred and her ex.)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri starts out well. McDormand manages to almost match her performance in the 1996 Coen Bros film Fargo. We are behind her every step of the way, even more so when we learn her ironic and terrible secret. She and Harrelson’s character enter into a short sparring match that brings the film’s character’s to life brilliantly.

This “battle” is short-lived however and that changes the face of the entire story. Herein lies the problem with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. While the billboards themselves are an excellent plot device, their importance shifts about a third of the way through. We focus more on Dixon and Mildred and because of the deputy’s character, the film becomes a bit more than hit or miss with its tale.

The film does entertain though. McDormand is a treat, Harrelson scores much better here than with his excursion in the “Ape” film and Rockwell proves yet again that his range is very impressive, if somewhat misplaced in this role.

Caleb Landry Jones is great value in his cameo role of the one man in town who dares to allow Mildred the chance to thumb her nose at the local Sheriff’s office. (Jones is also superb in another 2017 darkly comic film, the horror offering “Get Out.”)

John Hawkes is spot on as Mildred’s smarmy ex and Abbie Cornish is delightful as his 19 year-old airhead girlfriend. In essence, no one puts a foot wrong in the film but the character’s, especially that of Dixon, act in ways that do not really fit their limitations.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri feels like a Coen Bros film (McDormand is married to Joel who, apparently, told her to take the role of Mildred as it was written expressly for her.) but…different. Overall it fires on most cylinders and has an ending that can only be described as “noir-ish.”

This is a solid four star film that keeps the viewer locked on to the events as they unfold onscreen. One can easily see McDormand nabbing another Oscar this year, even though the competition will be fierce (The Post.)

SNL: Peter Dinklage Space Pants and Naked (Review)

SNL was hosted by “Game of Thrones” favorite Peter Dinklage. “Tyrion Lannister” got to be naked and harassed (by Leslie Jones) and he sang about space pants.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

SNL was hosted by “Game of Thrones” favorite Peter Dinklage.  “Tyrion Lannister” got to be naked and harassed (by Leslie Jones) and he sang about space pants.  Overall  the show was funny and in honor of the sword and sex HBO series, Game of Thrones very  “sex heavy” and Gwen Stefani was the musical guest.

The start of the show had a very flat  opening spot. With its focus on Donald Trump feeling forced as it must have been relatively slow week in the world of politics.  Dinklage was not allowed to do too much in his first monologue although his ” Petey no read-ee” was very funny.

Several skits fell flat.  Winnie the Pooh for example had Dinklage in a pooh bear onesie.

 Saturday Night Live - Season 41

The best two gags were the Space Pants/Mafia sketch (where Stefani joined Dinklage in song) and the “Naked and Afraid Celebrity” pre-taped segment where Peter teams up with a sexually harassing Leslie Jones.  Out of the two it was Space Pants with Dinklage’s robotic singing and dancing that was the episode’s clear highlight.

Of course one cannot have Peter Dinklage on without having a “First Look” at Game of Thrones skit. The other pre-taped segment featured a “mo-cap” dragon (played by Bobby Moynihan) that was distracting the HBO “special” participants and creating havoc on set. 

Sex was a prevalent theme, from the Glory Hole sketch, which featured bread rolls being shoved through a “glory hole,” to the honeymooning husband wanting to shag his new wife with a corpse outside the window. During the “Naked” segment, there was even a “sexual” sight gag where Jones’ pubic hair (over the 21 day time period) becomes a pixelated jungle. In this instance it was brilliantly funny, Leslie’s “foliage” grew faster than Dinklage’s facial hair.

Weekend Update provided the most laughs per minute and Pete Davidson with his Hulk Hogan perspective was truly hysterical. Keenan Thompson‘s David Ortiz was also good value, but then Thompson is always spot-on with his “interpretations.”

Dinklage was, despite a poor open and that Winnie the Pooh sketch, impressive his first time up on the SNL stage. He apparently was not told to “look” like he was reading the cue-cards.

 Saturday Night Live - Season 41
Gwen Stefani

One other amusing skit was the “Barbados Body” where a dead body kept floating up against a honeymoon couple’s underwater hotel room window.

The Close but no Cigar Award goes to the Danish crime re-enactment.

Stefani got the obligatory two musical numbers (three if one counts “Space Pants”) and proved that her talent does not diminish despite a 10 year gap since last appearing on SNL.

The final skit was disappointing although it did give Dinklage a bigger part to play in the proceedings.

Overall, the show’s theme of sex, which was prevalent even in the Weekend Update segment, while funny, was too much. The fact that there were only two Game of Thrones references was surprising and a little disappointing. The two GoT moments featured Moynihan, playing George RR Martin during the monologue and then in the HBO special, where he played the motion capture dragon. These two skits were really the only mentions the show got.

Peter Dinklage’s first gig as SNL host went well, overall, and even though the show was not a resounding success (sorry Lorne Michaels but having sex be the show’s entire theme smacks of desperation Game of Thrones or no). The whole thing was saved, though, by Peter’s “Naked and Afraid” and those space pants.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41
When I say space pants…