Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

By: Kevin Jordan

Whose side are you on?

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

About seventeen minutes into Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) has the following exchange with distraught mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) whose daughter was raped and murdered months earlier and who erected three billboards questioning the police’s job performance because she is pissed at the sheriff for not arresting anybody for the crime:

Willoughby: “I’d do anything to catch the guy who did it, Mrs. Hayes.  But when the DNA don’t match no one who’s ever been arrested, and when the DNA don’t match any other crime nationwide, and when there wasn’t a single eyewitness from the time she left your house to the time we found her, well, right now there ain’t too much more that we can do except…”

Mildred: “Could pull blood from every man and boy in this town over the age of eight.”

Willoughby: “There’s civil rights laws prevents that, Mrs. Hayes, and what if he was just passing through town…”

Mildred: “Pull blood from ever’ man in the country, then.”

Willoughby: “And what if he was just passing through the country?”

Mildred: “If it was me, I’d start up a database, every male baby what’s born, stick ‘em on it, cross-reference it, and as soon as they done something wrong, make a hundred-per-cent certain it was a correct match, then kill ’em.”

Willoughby: “Yeah, well, there’s definitely civil rights laws prevents that.”

Prior to that exchange, writer/director Martin McDonagh had us fully on Mildred’s side and thinking the sheriff was a lazy dick.  After that exchange, we’re hooked by this film because we have no idea who we’re supposed to be rooting for.  Of course we want justice for Mildred and her daughter, but the sheriff makes some damned good points and sounds like he really tried to find the killer.  This is the epitome of a movie that is constantly pulling you from one side to the other and not just with the main plot.  Every character in this movie, from Mildred’s son Lucas (Robbie Hayes) to angry and racist officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) to billboard proprietor Red (Caleb Landry Jones) to others, are multi-faceted, rich characters that will take your initial allegiances and stomp on them.  Then, they’ll stomp on them again just to make sure you weren’t getting comfortable again.  It’s a rare movie that can make you root for everyone and no one at the same time

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back.  Mildred didn’t after Willoughby’s speech so neither should you.

Everest

By: Kevin Jordan

Don’t go up there.

EVEREST One Sheet - Color

There are some risks that I am willing to take – watching the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie, trying my friend’s latest red chile, using the bathroom after my brother after he ate that red chile.  Then, there are risks that I won’t take – watching the latest Melissa McCarthy movie, trying my wife’s latest quiche, using the bathroom after my wife ate that quiche (just kidding – love you!).  But there also are risks that nobody should take and that list begins with climbing Mount Everest (it ends with using the bathroom after Gary Busey, ever).

At one point during Everest, one of the characters (Michael Kelly) ask the rest of the team why they are climbing Mount Everest.  It’s a very interesting question, and the movie does pretty much everything it can to avoid having its characters answer it.  It’s hard to blame the writers, though, because there is pretty much only one reason – narcissism – and that makes it harder for the audience to sympathize with characters.  There is no monetary or physical reward and since it’s been done before, nobody is going to make a big deal out of it or remember that you did it outside of people who already know you.  So, the only thing you get out of it is bragging rights and $65,000 less in your bank account.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an amazing physical achievement, but then so is the ability to eat sixty-nine hot dogs in ten minutes (which is also on the list of risks you should never take).

Everest is based on an event that happened in 1996 when several teams of climbers tried to summit Mount Everest at the same time.  The film focuses on two groups, one led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and the other led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), that end up teaming together for their final ascent, but meeting with disaster.  Now, before you get all huffy about spoilers, I promise I won’t tell you who lives or dies.  I purposely avoided watching previews and reading anything about the actual event for that same reason.  But, if going into this film you aren’t expecting some of them to die, you should know the movie begins by telling the audience that one out of four people who try to climb Everest die.  In other words, you will spend the movie trying to guess which of them will become corpsicles.  In case you think I’m being glib, it’s 100% true that the bodies of people who die while climbing Mount Everest are left there.  As Hall puts it during an early briefing to his team, “your body will literally be dying” as you try to climb.  There is simply no way the living can drag bodies down without dying themselves.

Since there’s nothing more to the plot than that, let’s go back to that WHY question for a moment.  Among Hall’s team who kinda, sorta answer the question are:

  • Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) – a rich Texan who says he only feels alive when he is climbing and not when he is with his wife and kids. If there is one character in this movie you won’t sympathize with, it’s him.
  • Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) – an ordinary man who works multiple mundane jobs to make ends meet. He says he is doing it to show a classroom full of kids that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.  This is one of those times when kids should heed the advice, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  In other words, achieve extraordinary things, but some of you will definitely die if you try to climb Everest.
  • Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) – a Japanese woman who has climbed to the highest point on every continent except Asia. She is the ultimate hoarder, er…collector.

As you can see, it’s a little difficult to root for any of those people, even Doug because this is his second shot at it (I’m sorry, but he’s not just doing it for the kids at this point).  That leaves us with Fischer and Hall, both of whom lead expeditions as their business.  On one hand we have Fischer, who previously worked with Hall, but broke off on his own.  He’s a great climber, but he drinks and takes unnecessary risks in the worst possible place to do either, so he’s out.  On the other hand we have Hall.  He has a pregnant wife at home (Keira Knightley) and is considered the best in the business.  But he has a fatal flaw in that he’s a little too nice – covering people’s satellite phone expenses and not forcing clients to turn around when he absolutely knows better.  You can forgive him for the first one, but the second one can get people killed.  If not for the pregnant wife, it would be hard to root for him as well.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, not answering the WHY question is the biggest problem with this film.  But, the good news is that everything else about the movie is very good.  The pacing is done very well as the movie slowly moves us closer and closer to the final ascent and descent by precluding it with scenes of the climbers acclimating to the environment (or not, in some of their cases).  It builds good relationships between the characters and does an exceptional job of not giving obvious hints as to who doesn’t make it back down.  Even better, the special effects are top notch and the views we see are amazing.  It’s definitely worth a viewing on the Imax, though without the 3-D if you can find it (unless you are sitting just right, 3-D loses the depth that this movie is touting).

When we walked out of the theater, some people were crying but I wasn’t one of them.  Like I said, I think it’s an amazing feat, but I’m not going to feel bad for anyone who dies trying to do something so hilariously dangerous when the only benefit is their name on a plaque.  At least the hot dog guys win a prize for their achievement and the next people to try it don’t have to step over their frozen bodies.

Rating: Despite the tone of this review, I do think it was a pretty good movie and that you should only ask for the 3-D surcharge money back.