Human emotion is undoubtedly complex and difficult to translate into words let alone a full feature film. This is especially true when dealing with more intense emotions such as sorrow and grief. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an interesting film with its analysis of human suffering, and it goes to great dark lengths to showcase the full range of emotion that comes with it. It is also one that balances the bleakness with humor, which shows how life, even in the darkest moments, can be brightened by joy. With all of this, Three Billboards is a fantastic drama that encapsulates human emotion in a painful yet satisfying manner and succeeds due to fantastic performances and unpredictable storytelling.
After the rape and murder of her daughter and seeing no progress in the police investigation, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) puts up three billboards outside of her small town calling out the chief of police (Woody Harrelson). The billboards causes quite a stirrup in the town with some in support of Mildred’s actions and others, like police officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), trying vehemently to block her efforts.
This is an extremely dense and serious drama that pulls no punches in the story it is telling. Embracing mature themes, this is not a film that is to be taken lightly as we see the events unfold with what is happening to this town. Each character is given a significance and across the board they are each given a great depth no matter how small or big they are to the story.
Frances McDormand and her portrayal of Mildred is one of the finest performances of 2017 and likely to stir up a lot of Oscar buzz. She has suffered an unbearable tragedy and the loss and anger is painstakingly heartbreaking to watch. Mildred is a character who stands up for what she believes in, even when her actions tend to be selfish at times. It is coming from a point of suffering and a realization that it’s hard to fill a hole that big. The way her actions affect the other town members leave them to be transformed, whether for good or bad.
Sam Rockwell’s character on the other hand goes through his own emotional arc and it is one of the most unique character arcs for any actor to take on. Officer Dixon is an individual who is capable of love and intentionality, but he acts childish and out of anger towards Mildred and many other members of the town. He yearns for the respect and credibility but struggles in the aspect to earn it, especially when his actions are speaking louder than his words. To imbue that sense of duality to a character is a challenge, and Rockwell more than often rises to the occasion by making such a hated figure be empathetic.
This is a drama that is capturing the single event of what transpires when tragedy and backlash strike a town. The billboards causes quite a bit of controversy in the town, leading to some unpredictable choices for certain characters. A scene starts off and you feel like you can predict how it will play out based on experience from other dramas, but it goes in a completely opposite direction that showcases a different side in tragedy. This unpredictability helps the movie greatly and allows for the drama to rise to new emotional heights.
That drama is also intercepted by some black comedy to help balance out the film. Characters comment on their surroundings or about the plight of their situation and it feels organic that at times bring a small chuckle. The dialogue between characters feels so natural and raw as if we are eavesdropping on conversations that I forgot I was watching a movie. The writing is purely phenomenal.
At the center, this is a tale of loss and suffering and how one attempts to navigate through the heavy stream. Watching how each character reacts and responds to each action is engaging. Their situation is investing and when the layers unfold throughout the story, you start to see both sides to how Mildred has approached her tragic situation. We are always rooting for Mildred to receive justice for her daughter, but the movie also showcases understanding from the point of view of other town members in Ebbing.
Emotion is entirely complex and weaving together a story that showcases the full breadth of a situation as complicated as this one is a feat of accomplishment. Every scene feels organic, the performances are raw and powerful, and there is a depth in emotion that few writers are capable of achieving. Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a heartbreaking story that dives deep into themes of anger and sadness but balances it out with a shot of humor. Seeing how the characters navigate the constant situations is engaging and builds the film to keep audiences invested. This is a powerful film with a great portrayal of the human condition and should definitely be recognized for its boldness during the Oscar season.
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