The phrase TLDNR (Too Long, Did Not Read) is for posts on the Internet that you want to know about but can’t be bothered to read. This is a segment called TLDNW (Too Long, Did Not Watch). It’s for people that just don’t have time to go to the movies. Now, I work pretty hard every year to see the entire list of films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. You probably won’t get to all of them, because I assume you have a social life. Luckily for you, it is my goal in the following weeks to post reviews of the 2018 Oscar-nominated best pictures so that you can be caught up before the big night.
However, I know even reading a whole review is time-consuming and not for everyone. Many people just look at the star rating and don’t bother with the rest of the review. Even now you’re probably bored of this introduction.
So I’ll make it short and sweet. For every movie I review, I’ll include three sections: 1) A 1-word review. 2) A 20-word review so you have things to say about the film when your friends ask if you saw it. 3) An in-depth 500-word review.
BONUS: This year, I’ve added bonus content baby! This year I will be reading each review in a podcast format if you don’t even time to READ. There will be a podcast of me reading each review and THEN a bonus podcast where I discuss the film with a fellow film friend.
TLDNW: 1 Word
TLDNW: 20 Words
Frances McDormand struts her way across the screen and kicks you right in the crotch. I can’t believe the best picture winner uses the C-Word so much.
TLDNW: 500 Words
Four out of Four Stars
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not an easy film to watch. This is not to say that it isn’t one of my favourite movies of the year, just that it is not an entirely FUN movie. Not that best picture nominees should be fun to watch, and not that there shouldn’t be challenging films out there- just that in every sense of the word this movie is HARD. It’s hard to watch, and it’s about hard characters making hard decisions, and they’re living in a hard world.
The set up for Three Billboards is that a woman named Mildred (played perfectly by Frances McDormand, who will certainly garner her second Oscar for this role) buys the old billboards outside of her small town of Ebbing, Missouri to shame the police department for not solving her daughter’s rape and murder case fast enough. She calls out police Chief Willoughby (played thoughtfully and with incredible nuance by Woody Harrelson) who in turn is dying of cancer. She also has to deal with Willoughby’s bumbling officer Dixon (played perfectly by the, until now, criminally underrated Sam Rockwell). It is a convoluted plot to say the least but writer/director Martin McDonagh does not miss a beat.
Now there are two things that have been pressing my brain in regards to this movie. The first is something that I noticed while watching the film. This is that McDonagh has done something very few writers can do, which is give every one of his characters beautiful and deliberate arcs. Each character has depth, and internal conflict, and each one has to deal with hardship. No one character is static for the whole film and this is a feat very rarely achieved by a major motion picture. None of the characters are entirely good, or entirely evil. It is a film populated by massively complicated characters. Martin McDonagh has gone on record to say that this film is about moral ambiguity and hopes that the audience questions the actions of the characters.
This brings me to the other thing that has been pressing on my brain, something that I didn’t realize until much after watching the film– which is the racial tone deafness of the whole thing. Three Billboards has been panned recently because it gives far too much redemption to Sam Rockwell’s character. We learn early on that Dixon tortures black people that are in police custody – a certainly poignant issue in the world today. Racial tension with law enforcement officers is a major issue right now, and has been for a long time. So, to have a racist law enforcement character is no small action on McDonagh’s part. Where the film has fallen into a bit of trouble is that this choice, to have Dixon be a racist, is brushed over far too quickly. Sure, he’s called out for it a few times but overall his character is redeemed at least in the eyes of Mildred. Many have said that Dixon is a character that is too redeemed by the film. Helping this white lady with her problem has redeemed him in some way and not in the appropriate racial healing ways. He never gets his comeuppance for being a racist.
Here’s my point- and this is perhaps what McDonagh is referring to when he discusses moral ambiguity- Dixon isn’t actually redeemed by the film. You do not leave the theatre feeling like Sam Rockwell’s character is a hero. In fact, you don’t feel this way about any of the characters. This is the hardness of the film. McDonagh challenges us to ask what makes a good person? What does it mean to be redeemed? Three Billboards asks these questions of its audience, and I’m not so sure it gives us an answer. Just like the characters, the answers to these large questions of “what does it mean to be good, or bad”, are complicated. They are messy.
Now, I am not a person of colour and I can see how this film can certainly be a difficult watch for anyone facing the prejudices of the justice system – but I don’t think this film should be panned just for having difficult characters who have to deal with the hardness of the world and who are, at least in my eyes, not redeemed for their crimes.
Three Billboards is challenge, and funny, and difficult. It dares you to guess what’s going to happen next and then delivers a swift, Mildred Hayes, kick in the crotch.
And here are the podcasts: