In a conscious effort to write more of what I consume, I’m back with another pop culture review — this time for the Golden Globe-winning film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film was suggested to me and I figured that, with the next Marvel Film installment a couple months away, why not redeem some of my Scene Points in the meantime?
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the film takes place in a small town in Missouri, in the region known as ‘The South’ to folks with knowledge of southern US geography. While no specific time is given for when the film is set, it easily could be applied to any current event. The film explores many comparisons to events and the climate of social unrest we see today. From racial discrimination, questionable law enforcement along with critiquing the social hierarchy as well as the justice system itself. McDonagh blurs the lines throughout the movie in some regards. A point I will come back to later.
The performances were incredible across the board. Lead actress Frances McDormand’s portrayal of Mildred Hayes was enlightening, given the complexity of the character. The premise of the movie surrounds a rape and murder which occurs months before the film takes place. The victim was Hayes’ daughter, Angela, and the investigation is at a standstill with no suspects. Mildred takes it upon herself to purchase three billboards just outside of town to question and critique the Ebbing Police Department’s lack of effort in her daughter’s case.
Woody Harrelson plays Sheriff Bill Willoughby, who Mildred blames the most for the case remaining unsolved. Harrelson’s performance gave me a flashback to his performance on the first season of HBO’s True Detective — although the spirit is willing, there are roadblocks preventing him from providing the justice that Mildred so desperately seeks.
There are many themes to the movie that make for invested watching and reflection. The relationships each of the main characters has with their kids before and after the murder combined with the daily grind of being a parent or a child with so much conflict from one person to the next makes it brutal.
However, Three Billboards is advertised as a dark comedy, with a few guilty and awkward laughs to be had. From Mildred’s personification of her slippers one morning to trying to decide her next move, or the polarizing charter officer Jason Dixon’s (played by Sam Rockwell) verbal diarrhea before interrogating Mildred, McDonagh does a bang up job of providing humor to real world issues in a similar manner that a comedian like Dave Chappelle might employ in a standup routine.
After leaving the theatre and digesting what I had just sat and consumed for just under two hours, I tried to figure out what the major theme of the story actually was. There lies the conundrum: the film addresses so much .
The racial undertone is not subtle in the least. Ebbing is segregated by socio-economic dynamics, with people of color existing in the town being viewed as public enemy number one, in the words of Chuck D. There is no secret to the racism that happens within Missouri as it is common knowledge that non-whites are viewed as problematic in the eyes of the law. The most glaring example is Mildred, who twice in the film commits an act that should get result in incarcerations, a fine or some form of punishable offense, yet walks away each time with no more than a slap on the wrist. Mildred’s black friend, Denise, was not as fortunate and was locked up for a good portion of the film for a minor offence, if we’re to believe the evidence.
This leads to the next theme: law and justice. I’ve already went over Mildred’s grievance with the local police department in regards to the investigation into her daughter’s murder. Throughout the film, McDonagh continually shows that there are some redeemable qualities to law enforcement, but, for the most part, the system is flawed in many ways, failing those who seek justice as well as the individuals who deliver it. The law, like people, has its own biases which have snuck into the system, leaving loopholes and cases unsolved to this day.
I mentioned earlier about lines being blurred. What I meant by that was the story arc of officer Jason Dixon. When we first meet Dixon, he’s nothing more than a power-hungry, racist momma’s boy with no moral compass or sense of compassion. As the plot unfolds, we start to see Dixon turn a new leaf, becoming a better police officer and ultimately making his way towards a redememption angle by the end of the film.
That’s not to say that I would want to be friends with Dixon given his actions in the film. I think the idea of being conflicted about whether to buy into his redemption as being worthy or not makes us human, therefore making the arc itself more plausible in that light.
As you can imagine, I thought this was a good film that — while I don’t care for awards shows — could clean up pretty well. If you’re looking to watch a movie that makes you question current society, makes you laugh and twists your moral compass, I would recommend that you check this out.
From what I have read in other reviews of the film, a few people were put off by the idea that someone who is so deplorable to start can be transitioned into a character that the audience are pushed to root for. I understand that point, and see that it could be wishful thinking to redeem the character to brighten the ending. Back to the point of blurring lines, I feel that the Dixon’s arc is a mirror-image of life. There are plenty of people you or I know who have redeemable qualities among their less desirable ones. There are few people in life who are completely evil enough to be cast as a comic book villain just as there would be few people who could be flawless saints.