There are some truisms we can’t get away from, especially the one about history repeating itself and people never changing. After seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri those two and a few others come to smirking life. It’s a movie that slaps you in the face, a wake-up call like no other I’ve seen this year.
If a film has Frances McDormand in it, I go see it. The same when it comes to Sam Rockwell, who is vastly under-acknowledged. My favorite of his is the expendable crew/cast member from Galaxy Quest, since I’m a fan of the quirky, but now it’s the brutal and conflicted Dixon, a brilliant piece of acting. No, there’s got to be a better description, because Rockwell mines every aspect and wart of man on the edge with a subtle and unnerving portrayal of violence about to go haywire.
The McDormand and Rockwell characters blast off the screen right into your face. I usually gush about ensemble acting but there is very little, if none, to be seen in this movie. The characters are all too self-involved and emotionally blinded, incapable of seeing/interfacing with others, unless venting anger and retribution. Everyone in the cast is astonishing, and each one crazy self-interested. It’s mesmerizing, like watching a car crash of the freeway pile-up order. The story flies along and there’s no escaping the wrecks about to happen.
On a side note, Mildred satisfies an urge we all wish we could realize, because she’s reached the point where there’s no turning back. She no longer cares what anyone else thinks, excepting her son. She’s become a reckless, avenging machine, and when two teens fling a mess on her car’s windscreen, she reacts to the schoolyard/high school fascism incident in a way we can only dream of doing. Go Mildred.
This is essentially Martin McDonagh’s sendup of how we are products of our environments and the vagaries of life. A lot of this script would fall flat and merely come off as vulgar, the messages lost, without the right delivery. IMHO, he is a better director than writer in this instance. There are a few ambiguous bits, the greasy burn smudges in the grass by the billboards that suggest the raped and burned girl had seen her end at that location, and the aggressive creep in the gift shop scene, who does and doesn’t commit to the murder.
After all is said, done, and acted, it’s just as Sheriff Willoughby (a polished performance by Woody Harrleson) summarizes in a letter to Dixon. It comes down to love, to forgiveness, to paying attention to another’s pain. Peter Dinklage’s sad-eyed James is the only citizen of Ebbing who has a clue, but kind as he may be, he also has an agenda. Having learned so many of life’s inescapable lessons, James doesn’t jump to conclusions and is ready to empathize, providing the moral of McDonagh’s theme. I believe every viewer will have a different take on this movie. For me it’s—what’s the point of living if we can’t learn to forgive others and ourselves?
Tis the season, so check out the freebies on 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway:
M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)
Follow on Twitter @RigdonML