Ever since I first heard about this film I was hoping it would come to my local cinema. Frances McDormand is a wonderful actor and usually played fascinating characters. But then I heard that it was a McDonagh film and thought “Oh no, not that Calvary and The Guard dude”. Luckily it is the other McDonagh, Martin, who is the director & writer of Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, I could look forward to it again.
I really enjoyed this film. It is dark and sad and tragic, centering on a mother trying to find out who raped and murdered her daughter when the police have no leads and no suspects. It is filled with anger and unsympathetic characters. But they are all humanised. We get glimpses of them as wider people than are portrayed on screen.
Sometimes I found that a little problematic, especially when it comes to the Jason Dixon character, is he really worthy of the audiences empathy? considering his actions?
But it is mainly McDormand’s film, and she carries it brilliantly. She is tough and hard-nosed and so full of anger. Yes about her daughter’s death, but also about her life in general. And just life. She wants justice, or revenge. I’m not sure she knows which. She certainly wants to find out who is responsible, and because that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming she blames the police, hence the three billboards of the title.
A lot of praise is also going Woody Harrelson’s way, and I can understand that, he is great in this role. But I am, once again, ambivalent about his characterisation and his actions. He is a decent man, trying to do his best. Okay, fine he sees the potential in some of his officers, and knows they can be better, but there is no hint that he is actually taking action against what they are doing or have done. [spoilers]the whole backstory about the torture of a black prisoner… I mean, if Dixon did that then it doesn’t matter what his potential or personal tragic backstory was, he needed to be fired by Willoughby, not protected and excused. Also Dixon’s assault on Welby should have had greater repercussions. Why does a man that would do such things deserve to be rehabilitated to the viewers? without really ever making amends? It strikes me that we rarely get to see anybody apart from a white US man make such a catalgoue of errors and yet still redeem himself. [/spoilers] But then again, I think part of the central message of the film is that hate destroys. Or at the very least all it creates is more hate and violence, as Penelope points out “hate begets hate”. At the same time, however, love and compassion are great, fantastic, but having love and compassion for people does not mean letting them get away with racist, violent shit just because they have potential.
So overall, I really really enjoyed this film. But I do have some issues with how it addresses some key characters and actions.