After taking home 4 major Golden Globe awards, there is no doubt Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has solidified its status as an Oscar favorite. Much like my review of The Post, I found this film to be anything but perfect.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a complex character drama starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson…among others. McDormand plays Mildred, the mother of a daughter who was raped, burned, and murdered. The case has yet to be solved. This leads her to pay for three billboards which serve to antagonize the local police into putting more effort into the case.
Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are the two main officers in Ebbing. Harrelson, who plays Willoughby, is the chief and is balancing the town drama with his own personal battle with cancer. Rockwell, who plays Dixon, is a street cop who may or may not regularly harass black citizens.
The film focuses on each of the characters complex internal and external conflicts. Throughout the movie, such themes as racism, police brutality, anger, police negligence, rape, cancer/terminal illness, family, small-town injustice and prejudice, feminism, divorce, bullying, and relationships are studied. These topics are obviously timely, however, in an attempt to tackle all of them at once the film struggles to give each one the attention it deserves.
In particular, the film has received post-Globes backlash for its handling of racism. I was aware of this before viewing the film, so I paid careful attention to form my own opinion on the topic. Indeed I found that the precision necessary properly develop such a nuanced problem did not entirely exist. It seemed that often racism was put on the back burner until it could be conveniently re-introduced into the plot. Further, there has been discussion as to whether Rockwell’s character is ultimately redeemed in the film. I find this to be beside the point as I don’t think the film dealt with the subject matter well in general. For it to properly address the issue, I think major revisions would’ve been needed.
The thing I most enjoyed was Willoughby, played by Harrelson. While Frances McDormand has received most of the buzz, not undue, I was truly blown away by this reminder of Harrelson’s range and depth as an actor. The way the script handles his character is masterful in my opinion. To discuss this further I would have to give away spoilers so I will leave it at that.
Overall, I felt the film tried too hard to do too many things. It seems that in a time of expansive social turmoil, some films will now try to exploit an overabundance of societal dilemmas. In the words of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” I am not one to say that any form of media should shy away from tackling important issues. Quite the opposite. I think that film, music, literature, etc have a duty and obligation to provide not only escape but also realism. Both blended seamlessly are what separates good art from great art. It is disappointing to me that at least two of this year’s best picture frontrunners are overly broad and ranging films when last years winner Moonlight strived on narrowing itself and developing carefully crafted themes with both complexity and simplicity.