A timely and important film.
Three Billboards is perhaps the most timely film I have seen in a while. The story centers on Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) who rents out three billboards on a desolate road in response to the police not making any progress on the rape and murder of her daughter. The billboards immediately draw the ire of Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his racist underling Dixon (Sam Rockwell). The movie pulls no punches, and shows the righteous anger of someone who sees the flaws in our justice system.
Almost predictably, one does not have to go far into the comments section on IMDB to find folks blasting this film while completely missing the point. The relation between the protest in this film and the numerous protests occurring around the country are hard to miss. Efforts are made to defend Chief Willoughby as doing all that he can. Sure, we can say that Willoughby seems to genuinely care about the case, but the same cannot be said about any of the other officers. The film shows that the police, most of the townsfolk, and the media are more upset about the protest than what the topic of the protest is (sound familiar?). Further, the point is brought up in the film and on the boards that the three billboards are on a mostly empty road, which shows that no matter where one chooses to protest people will be upset.
Another obnoxious aspect of the reactions to this film is that we supposedly don’t see racism. Rockwell’s character has been accused of torturing a black suspect, but there isn’t any evidence so the police don’t do anything. We do see Rockwell throw racial slurs at a Mexican, and makes it clear that he will brutalize white people who get in his way. I am not sure I understand the folks who claim that there isn’t obvious racism or police brutality present in the movie.
I suppose that subtlety of plot is too much for some viewers. Any sort of complication on issues of domestic violence, racism, and sexism seem to go too far over their heads. We do not have perfect people in this film. Willoughby is a proud husband and father, and seems to genuinely care for those around him, but he still defends a violent and drunk officer. Sorry folks, but this is the reality of the world. Good people can defend racists, and racists can potentially find redemption. Mildred is angry, harsh, and abrasive to all those around her, but we can likewise understand her. She refuses the romantic advances of James (Peter Dinklage) in part (so it seems) because he is a little person. She seems embarrassed by his advances, and he is given an opportunity to let her know how shitty of a person this makes her. However, the film shows us that all of the characters have shitty sides. Perhaps we should all analyze our own shortcomings instead of refusing to engage with material that makes us think.
Anyway, the film itself is simply fantastic. There isn’t a wasted scene, and we see characters that react in uncomfortably recognizable ways. The town of Ebbings is at once completely familiar while still being a grotesque example of current social issues. We see a character reading Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find early in the narrative, and in many ways this movie feels like an O’Connor story in the twenty-first century. The flaws are ballooned, but still true to form. The topics and characters interact with each other in ways that are meant to force a self-reflexive affect. It is unfortunate that many will likely ignore this message.
This is not a crime drama. Rather, we have an honest and angry look at what happens when an individual feels as though the social systems in place to protect us have failed them. Through colorful characters, sharp writing, and some of the best dialogue we get another excellent film from Martin McDonagh. I hope McDormand gets a best actress nod for this incredible role. Don’t miss this one. 10/10