In a time so relevant to the safety of women in workplaces and the dismantling of the culture of harassment and abuse so systematically in place, The Time’s Up movement made it’s foothold on Hollywood strongly and gained admirers and critics alike. The deafening arguments around the defence of the wrong have been making rounds all around, and in such a manner, exposed a lot many people in its wake. Cinema partly is on its way to reflect this change, with many films in 2017 showcasing the strength of women on and off camera. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri fits in like a puzzle during this troubled transitional phase in Hollywood, and by default, every kind of work that exists.
Telling the story of a grieving mother, Mildred Hayes has lost her daughter Angela Hayes to a gruesome crime, raped and burnt outside the main township of Ebbing. A year later, Mildred rents out three billboards near the same location of the crime, accusing chief William Willoughby of resting the case in limbo. Mildred is met with opposition from the town of Ebbing. Facing harassment, the film trails the life of Mildred as she wrestles her way against a town that never understood her grief, finding an unlikely ally in chief Willoughby himself.
An examination of grief, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri marks a surprisingly poignant performance from Frances McDormand
Frances McDormand shines as Mildred Hayes, deeply entrenching a seemingly basic character with humanity. McDormand, winning an Oscar for this very role, laps up the challenge and portrays Mildred with a strict vengeance. Her grief and her unapologetic attitude are what steals every frame she is in, and in two particularly powerful sequences, showcases why no one but her could have played this role in the way she did. Beneath the hard exterior, McDormand channels a human insecurity and doubt over her actions but still remaining adamant on it.
Supporting actors Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell rise up to an equally challenging aspect of the film, to stand on their own against a powerful McDormand. Harrelson portrays depth in also a seemingly basic character, imbuing him with humanity and regret over his duties. In a few minutes, Harrelson steals his solo scenes. His tough guy exterior with a softer side is subtly shown and well performed by Harrelson, making for an emotionally impacting arc which might make you sad over his character’s tragic end despite being the pseudo-villain of the film. Sam Rockwell, playing a grey character, is unlike anything we have seen of his before. Obnoxious and dumb, the transformation of Jason Dixon throughout the runtime of the film is a marvellous arc brilliantly brought to life by Rockwell. His hateful demeanour turning into a sympathetic one is something that might upset viewers because the film asks you to empathise with a racist human being, but nonetheless is an arc to rival.
The real hero of this film is the writing with an engaging script that might just be the pinnacle of Martin McDonagh’s career
Telling a simple story, McDonagh weaves a particularly powerful script that is an emotional ride through the closeted town of Ebbing. From the smaller character moments to the big showdowns, the screenplay holds its own through the tensest of moments, culminating in the most powerful sequence towards the end. While the actors portray their roles to a tee, it is the script that allows them to embody the deep characters presented to us. Accompanied by Carter Burwell’s guitar-heavy score and Ben Davis’s sublime photography, the film ends up to be a greater sum of its parts
The film might be a divisive moment in terms of grey characters, as mentioned previously, the characters are shown to be mostly racist about their attitude and remains unapologetic about their behaviour. The redemption comes from the most racist of them, Jason Dixon. We see a major transformation of Jason Dixon through the events of the film and witness a tender side of the man. While not addressing his racist behaviour, the film walks on to redeem Dixon in his quest to help Mildred. How one interprets that is their own dilemma to resolve, but it would have been a better resolution with the characters not being given full absolution.
As conclusive as it could have been, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri falters very little but triumphs in a lot, becoming a signage for future acts of protest to come. But more than that, it showcases three brilliant acts by three great actors of our times with a script that is one of the better ones to come out this past year.
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