Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This was the day for the final movie in the Best Picture category. And, I did it…seven movies in seven days, plus two of the nominated films before this week, equals NINE movies. I’ve never seen all of the Best Picture nominated films ahead of the Academy Awards before. And I realize now what a difference it makes. I will be watching the Oscars differently this year, thanks to this fun experience.

Movie Review Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri stars Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Sandy Martin, Peter Dinklage and John Hawkes. This crime drama, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, is rated R for language and adult themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 55 minutes.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Musical Score, Best Actress in a Leading Role (McDormand), and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Harrelson and Rockwell both were nominated).

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) has experienced the unthinkable. Her daughter Angela was raped and murdered seven months ago, and the case appears to have gone cold. In the grieving process, Mildred is stuck in the rage stage. No arrests have been made, and in her opinion, Ebbing Police Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) is not doing enough to find the killer.

She takes matters into her own hands and rents three billboards just outside the city limits. The billboards express her frustration by calling out Chief Willoughby and asking, Why?

The Chief is a well liked man, respected by his men and the community. He explains to Mildred, with sincere sympathy, that although they have DNA evidence from the crime scene, there isn’t a match, not locally, not in Missouri, not anywhere in the US. They have no leads and the investigation seems to have hit a dead end. He reveals to Mildred that he is dying from pancreatic cancer. He doesn’t want emotions stirred up and the town in an uproar because of her billboards.

But Willoughby’s request to take down the messages is met with anger and a determination to keep the public aware of her daughter’s unsolved murder. Mildred’s wrath spills over on everyone, including her surviving child, a son named Robbie (Hedges), and her ex-husband Charlie (Hawkes), who blames Mildred for their daughter’s death. A somewhat rebellious teenager, Angela and her mother fought so frequently that the girl asked to live with her father. The dad told her to stay with her mom. Although there was a great deal of tension between mother and daughter, Charlie convinced Angela that her mom really did love her. A week later, Angela was dead.

The person who most resents Mildred and her signs is Officer Dixon (Rockwell). He is a complex person. Tough, with a bullying demeanor and a smart mouth, inwardly he doubts his abilities and feels unable to become the man he really wants to be. He lives with his controlling mother (Martin), looks to Chief Willoughby as a father figure, and has a very difficult time controlling his temper, which makes him a less than ideal police officer.

The whole town gets riled up by Mildred’s billboards, and her oft times unreasonable expectations. Underneath all her gruffness and sharp words though is a woman living in excruciating pain and guilt. Deep down, she blames herself also for Angela’s death. Rage is so much easier to keep honed and focused than grief and sorrow. But will anger fuel her determination long enough to find the person responsible and bring him to justice? And who decides what justice to mete out?

Pain is the word I would use to describe this movie. Everyone is in so much pain. For Mildred, the lack of closure creates a pain of loss that is unending and time is moving too slowly. For Chief Willoughby, the pain of cancer is literally eating him away and destroying the life he loves, and time is moving too quickly. The son hurts every minute of every day, because of his sister’s brutal death. And Dixon covers the pain he feels over his inadequacies and thwarted ambitions by hurting others.

There is humor sprinkled throughout the film, primarily through Dixon’s childish outbursts or his mother’s crude remarks, but this is a dark story. James (Dinklage) lightens the tone of the film in the scenes he appears in, until he feels rebuffed by Mildred on their one and only date. And then his pain rises to the surface as well.

I have to say that I was relieved to learn that this is not a true story, but loosely inspired by an event that happened twenty years ago in Texas. Ebbing, Missouri is a fictional town.

The acting is incredible in this film and all three actors deserve the nominations they have received. For me, however, this was a depressing story with no redemption or transformation for anyone. The characters are in pain, and they stay there. Chief Willoughby is the most likable of the major characters, a good hearted man with a wife and two young daughters, but his impending death drives him to choose the time of his demise.

Dixon has an opportunity to shift and grow and for a moment, it appears that he will become the man he really wants to be. But disappointing results from his attempt to do a heroic deed dump him back into reactionary mode. And Mildred…heartbroken, guilt ridden, furious with life and the world Mildred…well, she at last decides to take the law into her own hands and act. Or will she? As the movie screen fades to black, I saw just a hint of softening, and the tiniest release of long held tension.

Nine amazing films, and a host of incredible performances. It must have been difficult to choose which movie wins the Oscar. I’m still considering in what order I would rank the movies. How grateful I am for the privilege of watching so many fine films this week. And I am grateful to Regal for presenting the opportunity through their Best Picture Film Festival, and I am thankful I have a Movie Pass card.

I’ll be watching the winners Sunday night, at the 90th Academy Awards. Watch for my review of the evening!

Movie Review Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Movie Review: Get Out

Down to the last two movies as I watch all of the Best Picture nominated films this week, today I saw Get Out. I purposefully avoid reading about the movies before I see them, so that I can watch without others’ opinions clouding my perspectives. I therefore knew nothing about Get Out. And now…I can’t stop thinking about it.

Movie Review Get Out

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root and LilRey Howery. This psychological thriller, written and directed by Jordan Peele, is rated R for language and violence, and has a run time of 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Get Out is nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Kaluuya) and Best Original Screenplay.

Chris (Kaluuya) is headed out for the weekend with his girlfriend of five months, Rose (Williams), to meet her parents. It’s often a nerve wracking experience, to meet the parents for the first time. Chris feels even more apprehensive when he realizes Rose has not told her mom and dad that he is black. She assures him that her parents are not racist and they will welcome him with open arms.

Rose appears to be correct. Dean (Whitford) and Missy (Keener) Armitage embrace Chris, figuratively and literally, claiming to be huggers, and also make it known that they admire and respect former President Obama. “I would have voted for him a third term!” Dean says with a laugh. Missy is a psychiatrist who specializes in hypnosis and Dean is a neurosurgeon. They live on a beautiful estate in a remote location.

However, as Dean shows Chris around the property, he begins to wonder if all is as it seems. A black couple, Walter (Henderson) and Georgina (Gabriel), works for the Armitages, as a grounds keeper and cook, respectively. Although they seem friendly enough, always smiling, Chris notices there is something “off” about the pair. His attempts to have conversations with them are unsettling.

And Rose’s younger brother Jeremy (Jones) walks a fine line between being welcoming and making disparaging remarks, couched in obnoxious humor. Worst of all, there is a huge party scheduled for the next day, and friends of the family will show up. Chris, who is an excellent photographer, had hoped to spend a quiet day capturing nature photos.

Later that night, after a strange encounter outside with Walter, Chris feels forced into a hypnotic session with Missy, who wants to help him quit smoking. He finds the experience disturbing, and although he now dislikes cigarettes, he has strange dreams about being in a sunken place, paralyzed by fear.

The next day, the Armitages’ wealthy friends arrive. They fawn over Chris, trying to relate with comments about Tiger Woods, or by saying that black is in, but they also make inappropriate remarks as well. Chris grows increasingly uncomfortable, although he remains polite and somewhat detached. He meets a blind art gallery owner (Root) who envies Chris’ photographic eye, and another black man, who is about his age. This man, Logan (Stanfield), looks vaguely familiar, but he is awkward in his conversation and manner, just like Walter and Georgina. When Chris takes his picture, the flash causes Logan to snap. He screams at Chris, “Get out! Get out!”

Chris’ best friend Rob (Howery) becomes extremely concerned when he hears about the weekend over the phone. He begs his friend to leave. Chris sends him the photo he snapped of Logan, and Rob, who works as a TSA at the airport, uses his detection skills to uncover that Logan is really a jazz musician named AndrĂ©, and he was reported missing six months ago.

Convinced he needs to leave, Chris finds it may be impossible, after all, to get out. And, he at last discovers the horrifying truth behind all the odd behavior at the Armitage Estate.

As thrillers go, this one is well done, reminiscent of the 1975 film, Stepford Wives. I jumped more than once, and some of the scenes, coupled with the music and the timing, were genuinely creepy. Humor is interspersed throughout the movie, provided primarily by Chris’ friend Rob, breaking the tension when it needs to be broken. And Chris is a genuinely nice guy, devoted to his lady, so much so that he strives to rise above the remarks that get tossed his way.

The actors portraying the Armitages and their hired help do an excellent job of playing people who are more than they appear to be. There are frightening moments captured perfectly through their odd behavior or dead pan expressions.

I enjoyed the film. And yet, I confess that at first, I couldn’t understand why it was nominated for Best Picture. This genre normally isn’t. As I thought about the film, and discussed it with Greg, I realized its proper category is social satire. Satire is defined as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose stupidity or vices, especially in the context of contemporary politics or other topical issues.”

As a satire, the perspective on this movie shifts dramatically. Get Out brilliantly exposes our current social situations in regards to race, by examining the wealthy liberal white and how some put out an appearance of not being racist, while yet attempting to exert control over minorities. This is a deep, and complex subject, that needs to be discussed more openly. Without revealing the ending of this shocking film, I can attest to the fact that it certainly caused me to think and feel and question.

It could be agued that racism goes in multiple directions, and that is true. However, Jordan Peele makes a heartfelt statement that needs to be heard, and in doing so creates in me a desire to listen…really listen. That’s the mark of a great movie, and an invitation for social change.

Satire comes from the Latin word satura, literally meaning poetic medley. Get Out is that, indeed…a poetic story that brings a variety of elements together to offer truth, if we will have the ears to hear.

Movie Review Get Out

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

Another Best Picture nominated film and a Netflix TV series prepared me for this movie about British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Season One of The Crown, a series about England’s royal family, gives a glimpse into Churchill’s final years as prime minister. And the film Dunkirk dovetails perfectly with Darkest Hour. Together those two movies cover a historical event from two perspectives, creating a bigger picture.

Movie Review Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldham, Lily James, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Samuel West, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane. This historical drama, directed by Joe Wright, carries a PG-13 rating, for adult themes, and has a run time of 2 hours and 5 minutes.

Darkest Hour is nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Oldham), Best Makeup & Hairstyling and Best Cinematography.

In the early months of WWII, Hiltler’s armies are advancing across Europe. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Pickup) is forced to step down. He appoints Winston Churchill (Oldham) as his replacement. This story gives an account of Churchill’s first 30 days in office.

And what a dark time indeed to become prime minister. England faces the prospect of invasion as countries fall to Germany. As Churchill gets his feet under him and formulates a plan of action, he encounters resistance and opposition, from King George VI (Mendelsohn) and Chamberlain and his own newly appointed war council.

Supporting him are his loving wife, Clemmie (Thomas), Sir Anthony Eden (West), whom Churchill grooms as a future prime minister, and Miss Elizabeth Layton (James), Winston’s new personal secretary.

As battles rage in nearby France, Lord Halifax (Dillane) pressures Churchill to seek peace. He makes arrangements for Italy to host negotiations between England and Germany, as the British and French troops are forced onto Dunkirk Beach, with little hope of rescue. Although Churchill feels strongly that they should fight to the end and defend themselves against “that man”, as he called Hitler, he begins to doubt himself.

King George comes to Churchill privately, after much reflection, and offers his support. The turning points, for Churchill, come after he launches a campaign that sends 860 private boats across the channel to rescue trapped troops, and when he loses himself among the British citizens and asks for their honest feelings and opinions.

In one accord, England’s people declare their desire to fight against invasion and protect their homeland and their families. They would rather die, they vow, than surrender to a mad man. With renewed strength and confidence, buoyed by the fierce courage of Londoners and the looming successes at Dunkirk, Churchill addresses Parliament, giving a hastily prepared speech that secures his place as Prime Minister, and in history.

I sincerely enjoyed this film. I love historical dramas, and this one was incredibly well done. Gary Oldham was convincing as Churchill. I appreciated the humor and complexities he imbued this towering figure of a man with. I’ve seen many portrayals of Winston Churchill, and this one is my favorite. Gary became Churchill.

I learned new things from this movie as well. I had no idea Churchill had such opposition as he assumed the role of prime minister. It makes what happened in his first thirty days all the more extraordinary. And, I didn’t know how close we came to seeing a different outcome early in WWII, that could have changed the world as we know it. So much hung in the balance. What a tremendous weight on this man’s shoulders and heart.

Most of the time, I propose peace, and I endeavor to live at peace with myself and my fellow humans. But sometimes, we must fight for what we believe in and fight for what we hold dear. By the end of this story, I felt deep gratitude for the man who fought, who stood against opposition and against Hitler, and ultimately ensured freedom and peace, not only for England, but for the rest of the world.

Movie Review Darkest Hour