Thursday, March 29, 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Sam Rockwell deserved an Oscar for this.

Good thing he got one I guess!

One of very few Oscar season movies to grab my attention beyond their Oscar material, this inexplicable film is either an upbeat violent drama or an immaculately subtle, pitch-black comedy. The incomparable Frances McDormand is Mildred, a woman whose daughter was brutally murdered, and the killer never caught. To light a fire under the police force and keep the case from being buried and forgotten, she hires three billboards near her home, puts some bold, goading words on them, and then steps back to take flak from every side.

Unexpected, crazy, beautiful, and heartbreaking plotlines ensue.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the film is similar to his previous, Seven Psychopaths, but with a significantly more serious edge. The film toes the line of reality while being firmly planted on the side of fiction; heightened and caricatured. Though serious and dark, and unwilling to downplay that aspect, this film is at its base, made to be entertainment -- entertainment that challenges, moves and evokes thought, but entertainment nonetheless. To that end it finds humor where it can, and finds it in many wonderfully unexpected places. To that end, its characters display realism through their exaggerated existence; and to that end, the plot moves with irony, violence, a plethora of bold turns, and plenty of cinematic flair.

This movie is absolutely rich with content. So much detail in every moment, so much to read between the lines; so much to glean from expressions and subtleties of performance. My favorite thing is how completely inconspicuous the foreshadowing is -- a couple times I realized what was about to happen by remembering a casually mentioned line from before. But I could never guess exactly what would happen, because the film would then immediately take another twist in a new direction. The plot direction was impressive to me as it was unpredictable, and is confident and cleanly displayed -- save for one plot hole so obvious and significant that I'm wondering if I merely missed something, with how confidently the film plowed through it unblinking.

The conflict mixed with understand between all the characters in a thing to behold. 

McDormand is way out there with Mildred, finding an interesting balance of likability. That is, she's almost completely unlikable as a character -- brazen, hardened, rude, selfish -- but is so sympathetic that we care for her anyway from the get-go, and by the end she has shown genuine good qualities. McDormand also deserved her Oscar; average performances aren't exactly in her wheelhouse. Woody Harrelson was also nominated for his supporting role, and the balance his character made was intricate; full of ins and outs and things to consider. His character -- the police Chief -- influences the plot more than anyone. There is nary a not-impressive performance or character to be seen, but you'll forgive me if I spend my time on one in particular:

Sam Rockwell I've been a fan of since I first saw The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and seeking out his movies, every one only increases my admiration. After seeing this, his first-ever Oscar-nominated performance, I've realized something: That he commits the exact same level of intense devotion to every role -- as naturally as another actor might phone in or run on star-power. It just so happens that Dixon is the first role he's landed where the character is so complex and mesmerizing on the page, that when he brought it to life with the same dedication and care as always, suddenly no one could ignore the merit or the talent which he's quietly possessed his whole career.

I think he deserved every award he got, but I'm a fan regardless of those trivialities. 

Dixon was the most unexpected aspect of this whole wild movie. Rockwell's performance is outstandingly good. I expected that, and adored every second. What I didn't expect was the arc direction the character would take, and that astounded me -- multiple times. This character in any other movie would've been a throwaway straw man, boring an irritating. Here the movie builds him, moment by unprecedented moment, into a gorgeous arc, that, every time it moves forward, seems incapable of taking another step without snapping and destroying the realism, but doesn't; again, and again, and again, into a thought-provoking and moving conclusion. Many of his moments make you laugh and hurt simultaneously, and no one can make the most of a beautiful opportunity like that like Sam Rockwell.

I'm not sure if a year's time will see me remembering this as basically a Rockwell vehicle that conducted some timely explorations and looked great; or if it will stick with me in a permanent and significant way. Without a doubt it's an excellently constructed film. The characterization is immaculate all-around. The location is lovely and memorable and it is shot in a wonderfully clear, sturdy way that complements the blunt but heartfelt tone. The way the writing ties in to itself is endlessly impressive to me, and the plot itself plays by its own rules in great ways. It had a lot to say but isn't preachy about it, nudging with gentle, subtle violence.

This movie boils down to sincere moral exploration through outlandish characters.

I liked what it had to say; I liked the story, the look, the tone, the humor, the emotion, and of course I loved the complex characters and the fine performances that made them larger than life. If at a later time the impression it left on me has faded, that will be alright. Personal connection is tricky and unpredictable, but there's a big difference between a movie meaning much, and a movie meaning much to me. Time will tell if this movie will find a permanent spot in my heart, but for now: I think this film is a pretty doggone incredible piece of filmmaking, and I love it for that alone.


  1. Cool! I was glad to see that you'd reviewed this: though I don't really go for movies when they're R for violence and such, this one intrigued me in spite of myself. Still don't know if I'll ever watch it, but thanks for the review. I know I can always count on you for balanced, interesting reviews. :)

    1. Thanks so much! If you do see it, I hope you enjoy! It does earn it's rating in the violence and language departments, but isn't excessively gory at least, if that helps. I understand your hesitation.