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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Grief makes monsters in this funny, savage film

© Fox Searchlight Pictures A mother (Frances McDormand) challenges the police to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.
     In the seven months since Mildred Hayes’ (Frances McDormand: Hail, Caesar!) daughter was murdered, no progress has been made in the case. Furious, Mildred decides to shame the corrupt, small-town police department into action. She uses her meager savings to rent three dilapidated billboards on the lonely road to her home. 
     The billboards detail the specifics of her daughter’s death and call out Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson: LBJ). The town of Ebbing is shocked and embarrassed.
     When news crews report on the shocking claims, the town divides. The minority community, long the target of police racism, sides with Mildred. Business owners and church and community pillars harass and threaten her.
     Also furious are the police, especially Willoughby’s favorite deputy, Dixon (Sam Rockwell: F is for Family), who isn’t opposed to using violence to get his way. They press her and her son to give up on the billboards.
     Mildred remains resolute, keeping the billboards up as long as her daughter’s case goes unsolved.
     As the town descends into chaos, each person makes choices that call into question the righteousness of their cause. Does violence only beget more violence? Or can it be a catalyst for change?
     Brutal, brilliant and surprisingly funny, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a must-see for movie lovers. Writer/director Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths), is one of the sharpest in his field. He excels at building deeply flawed characters whose complicated motives and terrible choices make this a very human story.
     No one in this film is likeable, but they are all enthralling. Dixon is a violent bigot driven by dogged loyalty. Willoughby is a family man who loves his community but allows some crimes to go unpunished for the sake of getting along. Even Mildred is not pure, motivated as she is by deep guilt that manifests in violent outbursts. She wants more than answers; she wants blood.
     For her ferocious performance of a wounded woman who channels her grief, fear and despair into rage, McDormand should lead the Oscar race this year. 
     As Dixon, Rockwell offers a wonderful performance. He transforms a clichéd villainy into something oddly pathetic, an almost quixotic figure, desperate to do right — but never sure what right is. 
Great Drama • R • 115 mins.
 
 
New this Week
 
The Disaster Artist
     In 2003, Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) wrote, directed and starred in his dream project, The Room. Instead of a masterpiece, he created the worst film in the history of cinema. 
     The Disaster Artist should be a fascinating deconstruction of the man behind the catastrophe. Franco, who also directed the film, is poised to earn several acting accolades with his bold and surprisingly nuanced movie. 
Prospects: Bright • R • 103 mins.
 
The Shape of Water
     Girl meets beast in this gorgeous fairytale from master filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. 
     In the early 1960s, mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works as a janitor at a secret government facility in Baltimore. Her only friends are her closeted neighbor and fellow movie-lover Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who protects Elisa. 
     Her life is routine. She cleans, she cares for Giles, she watches movies.
Enter The Asset (Doug Jones), an amphibious humanoid captured in the Amazon. In him Elisa recognizes a kindred spirit and plans to free him. 
     Beautiful, fanciful and sweet, The Shape of Water is del Toro’s best film since Pan’s Labyrinth. Visually, he is at the top of his game, crafting a fractured fairytale that is detailed and delightful.
Prospects: Bright • R • 123 mins.
 
Wonder Wheel
     Humpty (Jim Belushi) and Ginny (Kate Winslet) run a carousel in Coney Island. Drama enters when Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) returns home to tell her father she’s a marked woman. Carolina’s marriage to a mobster was apparently a poor decision.
      As pressure builds, Humpty and Ginny’s marriage unwinds — right at the height of tourist season. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 101 mins.