Call it a case of unfortunate timing, but there are three scenes of Churchill, as played by Gary Oldman, behaving in a way that we are now calling sexual harassment of an employee. The first shows his young, pretty secretary (Lily James) ushered into his bedroom where he dictates to her from his bed; upon finishing, he throws back the covers and tosses his bare legs up in the air as he propels himself out - the camera moves to her shocked reaction. The second has him dictating to her in what looks like a dressing room - we see his bare legs exiting the bathroom as he announces that he is coming out of his shower in a state of nature - she hurries away. The third has him taking a seat next to her at her desk and staring at her intensely; after a few moments she squirms uncomfortably and asks if anything is wrong - he states that he is just looking at her.
Three Billboards, written and directed by Martin McDonaugh, has a cover story of a mother’s insurmountable guilt and grief over the murder of her young daughter who was raped while dying Compounding the tragedy of this brutal crime is the apparent inactivity of the police dept in working this case and finding the culprit. The mother, played by a fierce Frances McDormand, hatches a plan to challenge their complacency by calling out the police chief and reprinting the police report on three prominent billboards right outside the small town of Ebbing, Missouri. Several factors complicate this plan: the expense of the billboard rental, the fact that the police chief is dying of pancreatic cancer and the reaction of the town to this public disgrace.
How unfortunate that this very dated material and static production should take place on a fast-moving train. Other questions arise: since this is a film that could only be targeted at a senior demographic, why open it at multiplexes which are geared to younger audiences? This talky period piece is not well served with its updated cast, most of whom have little to do. Dame Judy Dench might as well have been a referential portrait rather than a live actress and Willem Dafoe doesn’t get a chance to do much of anything but display the wide spaces between his teeth in some unflattering close-ups. Kenneth Branagh is eclipsed by a mustache as thick as a dog’s tail and Michelle Pfeiffer, a very glamorous middle-aged woman, seems too whiny and contemporary for this mise-en-scene.
In our digital age, we need a new word to describe the person we have unequivocally witnessed committing mass murder. To call Sayfullo Saipo a “suspect” is misleading - only one person was in the driver’s seat of the truck that sped down the west side highway, running over cyclists and pedestrians, ultimately killing eight and wounding at least eleven. He is seen on video exiting the truck after crashing it into a schoolbus, waving weapons and getting shot. Or, to be consistent, must we call the policeman the “suspected shooter”, compounding the lunacy of not spelling out what our eyes have seen. The only thing that remains unknown is under which category of slaughter Saipov will eventually be found guilty, but reading and hearing all the reporters continually refer to him as “the suspect” is a dishonor to the victims and their loved ones.