September 12, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Breathe” & “3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”


BREATHE (Bleecker Street – Oct 13):  BREATHE wasn’t the favored Triumph of the Human Spirit drama at Toronto this year; that title went to Stronger, with Jake Gyllanhaal as a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Not having seen Stronger, I can’t compare the two, but Breathe has plenty in it to please audiences who want to see nice people cope well with personal tragedy.  In the case of Brits Robin and Diana Cavendish (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy), the tragedy was polio, and it hit Robin when he and his wife were barely more than newlyweds in the early 1960s, Diana pregnant with their first child.  Overnight, Robin was paralyzed from the neck down.  After a dark period, he and Diana showed true British stiff-upper-lipmanship, as she engineered his exit from the hospital where he was being treated like a carcass waiting to die, and then over time they both commissioned the invention of things like motorized wheelchairs and portable respirators, allowing patients to advance toward more ordinary lives.  Garfield, who has to give most of his performance with his face alone, is quite good, and Foy provides tartly loving support.  Screenwriter William Nicholson, who’s been down this road before with Shadowlands, gives the enterprise a smooth if unimaginative script.  It’s a bit of a surprise that the polished final product is the first film directed by the master motion-capture thespian Andy Serkis, until you know that Robin Cavendish was the real-life father of Serkis’s producing partner, so it’s a more personal project than it may appear.  Serkis doesn’t exactly establish auteur credentials here, but he shows himself thoroughly capable of turning out an intelligent audience pleaser that’s a vehicle for fine acting.

3 BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (Fox Searchlight – Nov. 10):  The playwright Martin McDonagh’s third film as writer/director seems at first as though it’s going to go down the fairly familiar road of Coen Brothers imitation (with Frances McDormand as star, no less), a prospect that’s sad but unsurprising, since his last film Seven Psychopaths was a failed attempt at imitation Tarantino.  But McDonagh rediscovers his voice in 3 BILLBOARDS, and it’s his best film to date, even more satisfying than his promising debut In Bruges.  McDormand is Mildred Hayes, the mother of a brutally murdered teenage girl who has channeled her grief into fury that the Ebbing, Missouri police department (headed by Sheriff Woody Harrelson, and with Sam Rockwell and Zeljko Ivanek among the officers), months after the death, haven’t captured the killer.  She goads them by renting a trio of local billboards and plastering them with insults to the sheriff, and for a while, 3 Billboards appears to be content with scaling up a series of violent ironies, as one character after another harms someone who isn’t actually guilty of the offense that’s been raised against them.  But as the story continues, something unexpected occurs:  the characters begin to grow and change, revealing dimensions and complexities that hadn’t been visible before.  A saga about revenge becomes one about tentatively healing.  None of this stands in the way of some truly hilarious dialogue and situations, which provide a showcase to the tremendous cast.  McDormand is so perfect as Mildred that it’s impossible to imagine the film without her, and there are also generously proportioned roles for Rockwell (who’s never been better), Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, Clarke Peters, Abbie Cornish and more.  3 Billboards is a dark romp that turns into something larger and more stirring even as you’re watching.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."