There is an even cue of racism that does justice to multiple ethnicities throughout Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. Just when you think it’s a white dominated film with characters bashing people of color, a major twist occurs where a predominant male figure of color turns the table on the white man with his own racial slur that will hurt like a bee sting or leave a thorn in your side. And if you’re not white or black, but, perhaps, brown of Latino descent, well, there’s a racial slur there as well, with a brilliant line of dialogue recited by Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), “All you really need to know is English.” Thus, summing up, that, no matter what race or color we may be, it is the universal language of English that unites us, brings us together and can bring you a decent life.
Whether or not it’s to your liking, there’s an insistent score that does a good job of evoking an emotion. Film is the epitome of all art, and good music is a part of the reason why we go to the movies, even when the director is insistent upon when and how we should be moved. The film starts off with Mildred (Frances McDormand) on an lonely southern country road where her deserted eyes fall upon three decayed billboards. Her eye catches the advertising phone number on the billboard and with her convincing performance, we read her mind in that this is her fighting chance to promote the topic that has her going through a disheveled appearance in what we assume is depression.
Cut to the following scene, where Irish writer/director Martin McDonaugh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) allows Mildred to have her first badass moment in the film where she parks her car in front of the Police Station and crosses the street in slow-motion, pounding pavemen in epic fashion, over our first introduction to a reoccurring main theme in the musical score by Carter Burwell (Being John Malkovich, Three Kings). It is in these two back-to-back scenes where we learn from McDonaugh’s filmmaking techniques that this here is an American citizen who’s going up against the odds and demands her voice to be heard, even when she’s going up against the Police who haven’t solved the case of her daughter’s rape and murder.
Pretty disturbing subject matter, but, like McDonaugh’s previous work, he explores disturbing themes and as a viewer, one can appreciate the raw authenticity that he exhibits for us on screen. We live in a fallen world with disturbing things that occur every day. The main subject of the film is the rape and murder of Mildred’s daughter, in which we learn later in a flashback sequence, stormed out of the house on foot after she got into an argument with her mother and brother Robbie, played remarkably and truthfully by Lucas Hedges. There is a heated scene with dialogue that is too on the nose, and, perhaps, the scene would have been more affective without Mildred yelling at her daughter with sarcasm, “I hope you get raped and murdered” after her daughter bolts out of the house, only to have that actually happen. The scene would have worked just fine without that comment and a different one, nonetheless, it calls attention to a lesson learned for both the characters and us as an audience: be careful what you wish for, even if you don’t mean it. And to this lesson, we must give kudos to McDonaugh for not only writing it, but, leaving it in, it is a true reminder for us to watch what we put into the universe; it could very well come true.
Sam Rockwell is genius what it comes to his artistry as an actor. We shouldn’t expect anything less from the McDonaugh veteran, having performed powerfully in Seven Psychopaths. Rockwell has played in a lot of independent films, as well as big-budget films, most notably Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men. And to quote Sam Rockwell himself, from his award acceptance speech at the 2018 Golden Globes, “I’ve done a lot of indies. It’s nice to be in one that people actually see.” We definitely saw it and it was a pleasure to see him up on the big screen, living and breathing an authentic portrait of an alcoholic cop that lives with his loving mother and goes through his own character arc with hard lessons learned that ultimately make him a much better person throughout the film. His Oscar worthy performance is a true testament to his years of experience developing a mastery level of acting. Thespians like him make the moviegoing experience a pleasure for the audience because it’s the authentic performances they give which makes us feel like we’re looking through a portal at real life happening on-screen. Rockwell loses himself into the character and lifts the film to its elevated status of Best Picture.
The camera doesn’t move much, if at any moment at all, and when it does, it’s done in a very creative way; like a close-up on a book being read and rack focusing to the distance while simultaneously adjusting to the left in sort of voyeur point-of-view. The very fact that the entire film is almost entirely a series of well-framed shots without any movement add to its bold cinematic effects in filmmaking. Not that camera movement is bad, but, if done improperly, can call attention to itself and remind us as viewers that we’re watching something somebody shot with a camera, and, when that happens, we’re taken out of the film. I don’t know about you, but, when I watch a film, it’s always a true delight when we’re so immersed that we forget we’re watching a film. In this case, cinematographer Ben Davis (Avengers: Age of Ultron) does an amazing job at that.
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is a film about compassion and its theme is put perfectly by Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) to Dixon (Rockwell) “Through love comes calm, and through calm comes thought. And you need thought to detect stuff sometimes, Jason. It’s kinda all you need. You don’t even need a gun.” Every character has a weakness with multiple flaws in this film. There are scenes where characters are immoral and their judgments are definitely questionable, but, that’s what makes this film great. We’re all imperfect and we all have a lot of growing to do, no matter who we are what our status is.